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War Dogs review – a light look at the arms trade

by | 26 Aug 2016 | Film Reviews

‘Two twenty-something friends become international arms dealers and get into a ton of trouble.’

Todd Phillips, who’s mostly known for comedy films like Road Trip (2000) and his The Hangover (2009) trilogy, begins his transition into the more dramatic as he tackles the real life tale of a couple of twenty somethings dabbling in the world of international arms dealing.

Loosely based on the lives of best friends Efraim Diveroli and David Packouz, played by Jonah Hill and Miles Teller, War Dogs is a classic rise and fall from power tale as the film follows their humble beginnings in the gun running scene to receiving a $300 million contract to supply US soldiers in Afghanistan and taking on more than they can handle.

Although more dramatic than his previous films, and delving into more serious themes, Phillips still piles on a fair amount of comedy into his film. A lot of the laughs, unsurprisingly, comes from Hill as the very unlikable Deveroli, coming off as more of a caricature than a well-developed, fleshed out person, and embodies all the negative aspects and stereotypes of an American.

Having Hill as this outrageous over-the-top character would become pretty annoying quickly if it wasn’t for Teller’s Packouz who’s very much the straight man in this double act. He comes of far more sympathetic and grounded and a lot of the drama actually comes from the rising deterioration of friendship and trust from these two leads.

Unfortunately, Phillips also keeps the focus tightly on Hill and Teller to the detriment of the supporting players like Ana De Armas’ girlfriend, who feels purely there to add an extra layer of empathy on Teller’s character. She’s good in the role but is more a plot device than an actual character. Likewise, Bradley Cooper doesn’t get more than a glorified cameo and is a wasted, underdeveloped character that could have been utilised more.

Despite these character flaws though, War Dogs is an entertaining film with a lot to enjoy. Phillips pulls the film along at a zippy pace and keeps the tone light. In fact, rarely does he dig into the morality of arms dealing or broach the subject of war. It’s crystal clear from that opening montage combined with Packouz’s voiceover, this is very much the classic story of how the pursuit of money and power will lead to corruption and betrayal.

‘War Dogs is a competent attempt at a comedy by a director trying something different and tackling something a bit more serious and out of his comfort zone.’

Sadly the film relies too heavily on the comical element that if you were take it away, as a drama, it’s not very compelling and becomes rather forgettable. With thinly sketched characters and a very by the numbers story there’s nothing to help it stand-out among all the other “rise to power” films. With a similar performance from Hill it’s pretty much a mediocre imitation of The Wolf of Wall Street (2013).

However, there is still enough to enjoy and actually with that comedic aspect, which is Phillips forte, does make it more than watchable, just don’t expect to be blown away or to have your ideals challenged.

David Axcell

Film Critic

David has quite a broad taste in film which includes big budget blockbusters and small indie films; including International and Arthouse cinema. As long as it’s good in that particular genre, he’ll watch anything.

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