Best known for his comedic work, most notably The Hangover Trilogy and Due Date, Todd Philips takes a step away from comedy (does he?), to tackle a more serious affair; the true story of shady international arms dealing during the Iraq war. Philips doesn’t really stray away from his brand of comedy too much as the story is still told with dashes of humour, sex and drugs intertwined. Jonah Hill and Miles Teller have a dynamic on screen chemistry together as the Merchants of Death. But it seems quite absurd how these characters act in certain situations which called for a more mature and intelligent way of responding.
War Dogs stars Jonah Hill as Efraim Diveroli, an ambitious arms entrepreneur and Miles Teller as David Packouz, a masseuse struggling to make ends meet. They are childhood best friends who recently reconnected at a mutual friend’s funeral. Seeing how David desperately needs money to support his family, Efraim offers him an exciting opportunity to partner up in his business of international arms dealing. Together, they strike big by exploiting a loophole in the government initiative of allowing businesses to bid on contracts which supplies weapons to the U.S military. But nothing good lasts forever as they soon run into trouble with the law and some very bad people.
Jonah Hill is a standout with his charismatic performance of a drug obsessed cocky businessman with a douchebag personality. His character was intriguing in the sense that we wanted to explore more of his backstory, delve deeper into who he is exactly and understand the rationale behind his actions. His cynical and goofy laughter is a highlight which perfectly sums up his character as someone who is incredibly cunning and will probably stab you in the back when the chance comes. He is up to no good but you just cannot wrap your head around what he has up his sleeves.
Miles Teller’s character was a stark contrast to Diveroli as Packouz is infused with more humanity in him. His ethical consciousness is backed by his wife who obviously has her own withdrawals about everything. So he understands how treacherous the practice is and that guides his character’s thought process throughout. The fact that he still has a family to come home to, makes us empathize with him as he has to juggle between that and his unlawful profession. However, David’s wife, Iz (Ana de Armas) is just present to act as nothing more than his moral compass and to make him feel grounded in reality amidst the dangerous trading of lethal arms.
It dawned on me that there were some lapses in writing after watching the film. For example, it doesn’t address why David so willingly trusts Efraim with the risky arms venture. The two of them have neither met nor talked in ages, so one would really question the credibility of a person who carries a live submachine gun in the trunk of his car, let alone daring enough to fire it in public. Parts of the massive Afghan Deal also felt left out. I get it. It is an extensive story to tell for a two hour runtime but it would have been satisfying if we were given a wrap up on the remaining part of the deal. For the sake of spoilers, it won’t be discussed here.
It is great that War Dogs emphasizes on the back and forth relationship of these two men, but it never does examine the issue of morality in engaging in this line of business. When it does, it barely scrapes the surface of the problem, citing money as the only reason in their endeavours. Seeing how their arms dealing business is so wildly successful, it really begs the question of their impact in the war on terror and its repercussions. With terrorism being so rampant now and new government conspiracies surfacing so frequently, I thought it would be thought-provoking to let the audience in on such an insight.
You can see it as an unoriginal execution or even arms dealers role playing as bloodthirsty hedge fund analysts. But whatever you call it, if you enjoyed movies along the lines of Lord of War, The Wolf of Wall Street or The Big Short, chances are you will probably like War Dogs. If it is playing in your city, you will certainly be entertained by Jonah Hill’s testosterone flushed performance and the over the top rags to riches chronicle through selling weapons.
Directed by: Todd Phillips (The Hangover Trilogy, Due Date)
Screenplay by: Stephen Chin, Todd Phillips, Jason Smilovic
Based on: Arms and the Dudes by Guy Lawson
Starring: Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Ana de Armas, Bradley Cooper
Running time: 114 minutes