War Dogs, 2016.
Directed by Todd Phillips.
Starring Miles Teller, Jonah Hill, Ana de Armas and Kevin Pollak.
David Packouz (Teller) is a down-and-out masseuse, living with his girlfriend with few ambitions, and a baby on the way. At a funeral for an old school friend he bumps into his childhood best friend Efraim (Hill), and soon enough Efraim has him embroiled in his arms dealership. As the business grows, so does the danger, money and conflicts. All based on a true story.
They often say that those who can write great comedy can write great drama. The same can be applied to those who write mediocre comedy and, thusly, mediocre drama. Adam McKay showed how a pro could move from the silliness of Anchorman to the high stakes of Oscar-bait The Big Short. The Hangover and Road Trip director/writer Todd Phillips has now stepped up to the plate, to bring an equally fast-paced, politically/financially-angled narrative to the cinema screens in War Dogs. The unbelievable story of two gunrunners, the film marries comedy and drama (with a bigger definition on the drama), for an engaging, if less-memorable, film.
For older audiences who know Miles Teller as the brilliant lead in Whiplash and the scene-stealer of Rabbit Hole, seeing him in a new drama is a very promising premise. You then have Oscar-nominated Jonah Hill, a buffer between teenage stoners and mature cinemagoers bringing another enticing element – and wider audience – to the film. The pairing is enough to bring in a viewership, but it is perhaps the American-tinged essence of War Dogs, and the indefinite tone of the whole piece that will prevent it from becoming anything more than a cult favourite. This is by no means a problem, and unless you are the financial-backers, the film can live longer with enduring word-of-mouth than it will in cinemas. The satisfaction of War Dogs is walking away from the screen, in wonderment over the story, perhaps less so with the overall “worth” of it.
Todd Phillips may not have the cultural linchpin of the last decade to focus on, but he has found an equally stupefying story in David Packouz and Efraim Diveroli. The childhood friends who ended up with a $300 million arms deal with the Pentagon is a truly astounding story, that will often have you with your jaw dangling in awe. The pacing that Phillips and co-writers employ is well handled, with only the Hannah and Her Sisters-inspired chapter headings proving a slight distraction, and the paint-by-numbers structuring.
Efraim does remain too much of an enigma at points, and Hill’s terrific, if occasionally cartoonish, performance cannot alleviate this point, however much he tries to draw blood from the stony character. Teller is also held back by Packouz’s placid nature, but often conveys great emotion when the moment calls for it. The biggest issue with the pair is the artificial chemistry on show. Neither actors seem that comfortable with one another, and having seen each react with a host of actors, always clicking next to J.K. Simmons, Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Zac Efron, Emma Stone, and Shailene Woodley, to name a few, there is a palpable disconnect. The most casually settled actor is Ana de Armas, providing the domestic side to events, and refining the film when it gets extra manic. Her presence adds a calmness that’s occasionally needed, and she does it with a very natural demeanour.
Phillips, when he needs to, can inject absolute energising chaos into a few minutes, and here is no different, with a great soundtrack to boot. There is a lot of entertainment on show in War Dogs, coupled with that incredible true-story. It’ll last as long in your memory for the attention you decide to give it; for many it will be something they recommend to friends, or Google after watching. Overall, it isn’t bound to grab that many people’s attention, and Netflix is really its most appropriate home, yet it is definitely worth a watch.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★/ Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★