Review: War Dogs

Screenshot 2016-08-28 23.54.25Frances Winston found War Dogs to be a thrilling film that will give you a few giggles, but is not too taxing, even though based on a true story

Directed by: Todd Phillips – Starring: Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Ana de Armas, Bradley Cooper

In one of those ‘you couldn’t make it up’ scenarios, War Dogs is a comedy-drama based on the true story of two twenty-something stoners, who became trusted arms dealers to the US Government forces in Afghanistan.

Efraim Diveroli (Hill) set up a company, AEY, which scoured the tenders for government arms contracts, looking for what he called the crumbs. Reacquainting with his childhood friend, David Packouz (Teller) he brings him in on the action.

Initially, all is good, as they ensure that they stick to small orders that no major arms supplier wants. However, they get more and more ambitious, ignoring import guidelines and taking several chances. When a huge order for a vast quantity of ammunition becomes available, they see dollar-signs, and they determine that they will score it. For a small operation like them though, getting that contract could lead to some nefarious and less-than-legal dealings.

Some people will already be familiar with this story, but it’s not necessary to know anything about the pair going into this. If you’ve seen any of Phillips previous work, then you’ll see his ‘blokes behaving badly’ stamp all over this from the off.

Hill basically lays a variation on his Wolf of Wall Street character, except with less of a conscience. He is brash and slick, and at times holds the movie together. Teller often seems to amble along, taking whatever is thrown at him as Packouz – which according to accounts, is pretty much how he was. The pair are typical flash twentysomethings, who inadvertently make a huge amount of money, and can’t wait to flash it.

Packouz’s girlfriend, Iz (Armas) has a baby as the story progresses, but even this doesn’t serve to humanise the pair, or make them likeable (although Packouz is the most likeable of the two). They are very much about self-preservation, and you get the impression that most of the players here would sell each other out without a second thought if it would save their own skin.

The humour here, more often than not, comes from the ridiculous situations they find themselves in. Many established businessmen would find themselves out of their depth doing deals like this, never mind two youngsters who haven’t a degree between them. Interestingly, the US government isn’t really held to account for their purchasing policies, and while we know that Diveroli and Packouz had an agenda, the government that met with them and did these deals isn’t completely blameless either.

This is fast-paced with snappy cinematography, and a catchy and pulsating soundtrack. All the ingredients to keep a viewer engaged. It is also completely bonkers in places, making the fact that these are real events all the more astonishing. Essentially, these are not nice people, and Phillips wants you to root for them, which is hard. Hill’s Diveroli in particular has no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

A cross between Three Kings and The Hangover, as a piece of entertainment War Dogs will do the job. However, it misses several opportunities to make a social and moral statement about the events in the movie, which leaves it lacking somewhat in substance.

As a piece of farce (based in fact) this will give you the giggles, but won’t make any sort of lasting impression. Just funny enough to get beyond the serious subject matter, War Dogs is ideal if you are looking for something thrilling, but not taxing, from your cinema visit.

In Cinemas Now!

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