“The war is happening. This is about money.”
Story: Wanna make some serious dollars? Run guns for the government! It’s not just for big contractors anymore. When junior high BFFs Efraim (Hill) and David (Teller) decide to go into the business by picking up the teeny contracts nobody wants, things look pretty sweet for a while…until things aren’t sweet anymore. And they find out what happens when arms dealers stop being polite, and start getting real.
Genre I’d put it in: Douche-bro gunrunner buddy comedy.
Remake, Sequel, Based-On, or Original: Based on an article about real-life millennial gunrunners in Rolling Stone.
Gotta say: War may be hell, but being an international arms dealer is up there too. At least once you really start getting into the thick of things. Jonah Hill and Miles Teller walk a great line between comedy and tragedy here, with Hill bringing menace and thinly disguised avarice to what could have been a one-note joke of a character. Jonah Hill has upped his game y’all. Will there be an Oscar nod for him this year? Maybe, maybe not, but this performance deserves to at least be in the conversation.
I was impressed by Teller’s performance – a great mix of guy-over-his-head and hopeful faker – which is saying something considering how much I loved Whiplash. Ana de Armas (Hands of Stone) plays David’s clueless, then disapproving, wife Iz, and while I liked that her character was fleshed out enough to actually have an opinion on what was going on, she’s all but background noise; the Little Woman that keeps David tethered to the real world. Oh, and as skeevy blacklisted arms dealer Henry Girard, Bradley Cooper gives good blue-eyed menace. Girard’s scenes give a peek behind the curtain into the seedy underbelly of arms dealing, a peek the boys never seem to fully understand.
I liked the chapter-by-chapter episodic plotting at first, but after the first half it felt like a jumpy rush to the finish. It’s fun to skip from point to point, but in a scene where one of AEY Inc’s contractors fails to get paid, there’s an immediacy that feels like a splash of cold water in the midst of all the hi-jinx. The pacing and editing, as the camera goes from David to Efraim and back, makes for a riveting scene. A better balance between dark and light would have made for a better film. And while there’s plenty of director Todd Phillips’s usual dude-bro comedy stylings here, there’s also plenty of serious moments when shit gets real. One of these days I’d be interested to see Phillips chuck the comedy training wheels and go for a full-on dramatic action film. There are many scenes here that show he’s got it in him.
Loved the soundtrack, filled with everything from Aerosmith to Iggy Pop, Pitbull to Beastie Boys, as well as “Fortunate Son” from Creedence, which I believe must by law be included in any war-type film. The film ends with a little Leonard Cohen, which is always a gift from the gods.
So to wrap; writer/director Phillips gives War Dogs plenty of giggles, and even a few serious moments. The screenplay weaves together the huge cojones it takes to deal guns with the desperation of a man who “misses not taking shit from anybody”, building a house of cards that was never gonna stand. The cinematography is fantastic, which is amazing considering all of the different types of locations for this film; Miami penthouses, dusty army barracks in Iraq, and offices where greed bleeds from the walls all look incredible. A few wobbles with pacing, but terrific performances help deliver a fun ride that doesn’t mind showing you the consequences of trying to bite off way more than you can chew.
#Protip: The film looks so legit because the locations are legit; filming took place in Miami, Vegas, Jordan, Morocco and Romania.