By Jack Dignan
It's a true story you won't believe is true. Movies claim that they're true stories all the time, and it's easy to pick apart the inaccuracies they hold. It's easy to tell which ones are real and which are fictitious, and most of the time, the filmmakers admit that. But War Dogs is not like that. War Dogs, based on all that I've heard about the true story, is in fact very true. The biggest shocks, twists and surprises all happened, and while I'm sure it's not 100% accurate, the fact that this is a true story is just mind blowing. This film is so ridiculous, dark, energetic and hilarious that it could've gotten away with being unrealistic fiction. But it's not. And it's great.
War Dogs follows the story of David Packouz (Miles Teller), a young man trying to make a living as a massage therapist. With the arrival of a newborn baby on the way, David is in desperate need of money. Timed to perfection, David's childhood best friend, Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill), arrives back in town, and after the two do some catching up, David discovers that Efraim is an international arms dealer, and he offers David a job. The two start out with some small time deals, feeding off the "crumbs" and leaving the "pie" for everyone else. That is until a $300 million deal with the pentagon arises, requesting them to supply arms to soldiers in Afghanistan, and it's this job that puts them in some rather tricky situations, to say the least.
Dark, funny and serious when it needs to be, War Dogs is the war equivalent of The Wolf of Wall Street, even at times feeling oddly reminiscent of a Scorsese film, but done to a much lower quality. This real life crime-comedy is all sorts of things, and predictable isn't one of them. As the story unravels, it just gets more and more insane, the situations these two get themselves into becoming increasingly dangerous, especially when they become involved with Bradley Cooper's character, who's on a terrorist watch list. It's not necessarily a happy story, but it sure was an entertaining one.
Director Todd Phillips has previously handled films such as the Hangover trilogy and Due Date. With War Dogs, he still retains his perfect comedic timing, as there are some laugh out loud hilarious moments, but he also matures a little bit, able to tell a meaningful and important story. It may just be the most well directed film he's made to date, as it doesn't feel like a flimsy comedy, but instead a well put together movie. He stepped his game up and it worked.
Hill and Teller are both, in their own rights, fantastic actors. Sure, they've done some not-so-great movies, but what actor hasn't? War Dogs sees them once again tackling a serious subject matter, and they're both brilliant. In terms of characters, I wasn't emotionally invested in either of them. Teller does his best to gain my investment, and I guess he did to some degree thanks to his great performance, but I wasn't attached. Hill, however, wasn't meant to be all that likeable, and he really isn't. The performance, on the other hand, was freaking great. Those who see Hill as a comedic actor only are yet to see his true talent. The man is versatile, and every performance continues to get better and better.
The biggest downside to War Dogs is that, while the story itself is fresh, the filmmaking and storytelling tropes felt very familiar. With Miles Teller serving as our narrator, we're spoon fed every bit of information, and this is done through techniques we've seen time and time again. Nothing about the way they handle the subject matter is innovative, and sure, it's a very entertaining and well directed movie, but really, it's nothing new. You won't leave the cinema with your mind blown, but for what it was, it's a hell of a good time.
To sum up, War Dogs is not going to make you fall in love with cinema all over again, but with a fresh and unpredictable true story to tell, as well as some fantastic performances and quality directing, it's an entertaining one nonetheless. Dark, twisted and funny, this film is worth your money.
3 1/2 Stars