Director: Todd Phillips
Starring: Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Ana de Armas, Kevin Pollak, Bradley Cooper
In 2005, David Packouz (Teller) was going nowhere in life working as a massage therapist in Miami Beach. He then thought it would be wise to sell fancy sheets to nursing homes. That career choice also flopped leaving David struggling to support his family. He hadn’t seen his childhood friend Ephraim Diveroli (Hill) since middle school until a funeral brings them together. Ephraim is a Scarface-obsessed entrepreneur with a Class 3 firearms license. They are at two very different stages of their lives and careers. He opens up to David about being a firearms dealer for the Pentagon. It’s a government initiative for small businesses, but the inner workings are far more illegal than you would expect. Ephraim is raking in millions of dollars and lures David into being a business partner. He feels no choice but to join Ephraim’s company when his wife, Iz (de Armas), announces she is pregnant. Their first major contract together involves some Italian Berettas that leads them to an unexpected and extremely dangerous trip to Jordan to track down the shipments. They barely survive the mission at hand, but this only propels the “get rich fast” way of life that’s new to David. He continues to lie to his wife, as he gets deeper into Ephraim’s business and blinded by the money. The guys realize they may have finally gotten in over their heads with a $300 million job involving illegal Chinese ammunition.
I’ll be honest. When the trailer first arrived for War Dogs, I was a bit apprehensive as I didn’t want to just see another movie with horrible people performing illegal activities all the while making a crap load of money and ruining the lives of others. Well, that’s basically what happens, yet I was still completely captivated the entire time. It’s another one of those “how could this be true” stories and was first told in a Rolling Stone article aptly titled “Arms and the Dudes” if that gives you further indication of what these guys were like. These kinds of movies are often scrutinized, as all of the main characters are unlikeable, so why should we glorify it by spending money on it at the box office. I completely get it, but I still find that I’m completely drawn in to these stories as these two guys lead such polar opposite lives than the simple life I lead. They’re cocky, fueled by drugs, living lie after lie while rolling in the dough. It’s baffling how easy and normal it seems to get to this stage as David went from massage therapist to arms dealer in six months.
The film’s directed and co-written by Todd Phillips, best known for Old School and The Hangover trilogy. It’s his most mature movie to date and bears some resembles of how Adam McKay went from Step Brothers and the Anchorman movies to making The Big Short. He is still able to bring out a sense of humor at the absurdity of the situation. It’s the kind of you dramedy where you find yourself laughing, as Hill and Teller are gifted comedic actors, but you shouldn’t be laughing at the crazy and obnoxious behavior they find themselves in. Phillips keeps the pace up to mirror the rate at which Ephraim wheeled and dealed his way through life as if it was one big party.
War Dogs has the air of The Wolf of Wall Street and The Big Short as it is further proof of the obsession many young men have with money and power and how far it takes them before it all comes crashing down on them. Ephraim explains at one point “this isn’t pro-war, but pro-money.” It’s told through David’s perspective with actor Miles Teller narrating the events that unfolded. If you’re worried about them getting away with some of their illegal habits, fear not as they do get their comeuppance by the end, and that depends on how you look at it. That’s a minor spoiler as the very first scene suggests that it’s no easy ride. The story is a bit easy to take in if you just remind yourself that it has to come to an end at some point. It’s a bit unsettling to think that this is just one story of two guys that actually got caught when there is more out there doing this work.
The role of Ephraim Diveroli will hopefully be game changer for Jonah Hill. It’s a powerhouse performance and the best one of his career. If Moneyball and The Wolf of Wall Street earned him Oscar nominations, this should as well. It’s probably too early to assess that as this movie could be long forgotten by then, but it’s the perfect role of him to utilize his strengths as both a comedic and dramatic actor without it feeling like he’s trying so hard to prove himself. He’s no stranger to playing a stoner, but he gets to play a more dangerous and psychotic version than the sidekick stoner he’s done in various Judd Apatow films. Miles Teller has the less showy of the two roles playing the everyman who gets in deeper than he could have imagined. Teller always has a way off playing off his scenes partners really well no matter the kind of film, which makes the relationships all the more believable. Kevin Pollack and Bradley Cooper also appear in smaller roles. Pollak is pure Pollak playing an investor in Ephraim’s company. Cooper plays a legendary arms deal who becomes their best friend and mentor in getting their plan to go off without a hitch.
War Dogs is nowhere near as in your face as say The Wolf of Wall Street or as confusing as The Big Short may have gotten. Like those two, it’s a bizarre story that feels like it only exists in the movies. Unfortunately, it’s all too true. I haven’t had a chance to read the entire Rolling Stone article, so I’m not sure how much is changed for dramatic effects. It doesn’t really matter as Phillips and his two leading men drew me into a web of delusion and horrible people.
Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? A powerhouse performance by Hill makes for one of the better movies of the year.
RATING: 4 out of 5 TICKET STUBS