By Thomas Simpson
Director Todd Phillips returns with another comedy about a couple of guys getting themselves into some trouble for our amusement, except the risks are much higher this time. His protagonists are arms dealers responsible for selling weapons and ammunition to the Pentagon increasing the stakes and presenting a very real danger. It may seem farcical but War Dogs is based on an incredible true story, even if the final product is greatly fictionalized.
David Packouz (Miles Davis) is a dope smoking slacker working as a massage therapist to the disgustingly rich. He soon meets up with his childhood friend Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) and he’s impressed with Efraim’s business acumen. When David’s girlfriend Iz (Ana de Armas) falls pregnant, the temptation of wealth is too hard to resist and he finds himself joining Efraim’s business, AEY, who supply arms to the US Government. The money rolls in and all is well until the deals get bigger and with it the consequences.
War Dogs presents a light hearted look at a very serious incident that raised important questions about how the US Government made arms deals. Philip’s omits much of the Pentagon’s involvement to concentrate on the two leads. He further explores the buddy tropes for which he’s known for, only this time there’s a darker edge to proceedings
Hill’s portrayal of Efraim is diabolically superb portraying his as self-serving sleaze in a suit. He sells you on liking Efraim but as the story unravels we see the real glimpses of his personality. Although this isn’t a straightforward comedy, there are traditional mechanisms at work in the script. David is the straight man to Hill for the comedic moments, shy and reserved, he’s also the moral figure to root for. He isn’t blameless in the unscrupulous dealings by any means but his humanity allows us to sympathize with him even if it is the suffering Iz we really feel for.
The style and story are reminiscent of The Wolf Of Wall Street and The Big Short. All three films revolve around pernicious business dealings that resulted in horrible people getting rich at the expense of those further down the totem pole. War Dogs doesn’t reach the dramatic heights of its predecessors failing to provide the same thrills and disgust. It might be based on a true story but it doesn’t stop the plot from being formulaic and predictable.
War Dogs works best when Phillip’s plays on his comedic strengths. There is great scope within the story to explore the truth in more depth however it’s only highlighted in short bursts. There are a few laughs to be had but the third act ends with a whimper despite us following the lit fuse for so long. Slick and stylish, War Dogs is an entertaining glance at a serious subject. It’s a fun ride while it lasts but there’s no long lasting message or feeling once you’ve left the cinema.
Thomas Simpson is a writer and filmmaker based in Glasgow, U.K. Find him on Twitter: @Simmy41.