‘War Dogs‘ Review: A Much Needed Summer Surprise.
I didn’t know what to expect when walking into the theater to see War Dogs. If you seen any of the trailers or television spots for the film, you were probably wondering to yourself, “is this a comedy or a drama?” While I guess you could technically classify it as a dramedy, I would honestly say that the vast majority is a drama. Most of Todd Phillips‘ previous projects have been raunchy comedies and even though the trailers for War Dogs had jokes in them, I didn’t find any of them to be particularly amusing nor comedic.
Based on the Rolling Stone article “Arms and the Dudes” written by Guy Lawson, War Dogs is the latest film from director, producer, and co-writer, Todd Phillips. The film follows two childhood friends, David Packouz (Miles Teller) and Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill), who haven’t seen each other in years but randomly brush elbows at their friends funeral. A few days after Efraim’s return to Miami, David’s girlfriend Iz (Ana de Armas) learns that she is pregnant. Fully aware that he doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life working as a massage therapist, David begins to reconsider his future. Efraim offers David a job working alongside him as a gun runner for the US Government. While initially reluctant to take the job, David quickly learns the ins and outs of the business and lands the company a major contract. It isn’t long before the two friends turned business partners turn the company AEY into a multi-million dollar business.
War Dogs is a surprisingly entertaining drama that works best when its not trying to be humorous. I found the story of these two friends that make millions of dollars by selling weapons to be extremely fascinating. Stories like this one really make me question things about our society and the government. The fact that these two guys, who were total stoners in real life, managed to pull off all these things makes for one hell of a tale but more importantly makes you question the system and how truly ineffective it is. When the film comes to a close and the audience learns about the sentencing that these two men face; it proves right then and there that the US court and penal system is beyond broken.
I will be the first to admit that I wasn’t sure if the pairing of Miles Teller and Jonah Hill would work. I have to give Miles Teller a bit more credit than Jonah Hill on this one because I felt like his character is given a better backstory and more development. He is also given a girlfriend and kid which I had issues with but I will go more into detail about that later. It is reassuring to see that Teller is actually acting throughout the film instead of playing the same sarcastic asshole that he plays in most mainstream films. This may finally be the exception to the unwritten rule that Miles Teller is only good in independent films.
As for Jonah Hill, I felt his portrayal of Efraim was totally believable. Hill was really convincing as this smooth talking manipulator. I always find the roles that Hill takes on to be either hit or miss but with this one, my feelings are kind of right down the middle. I love when Hill takes on meaty dramatic roles but when he does his raunchy comedy act, I generally find myself underwhelmed. What is interesting about Hill playing Efraim is that I felt like this role embraced some of Hill’s comedic personality while also requiring him to act. Hill is on point for about 75% of the film but there are several moments where I felt he was just being his normal comedic self and it reminded me that I was watching Jonah Hill rather than Efraim. The role required Hill to do this weird and annoying laugh that he kept doing repeatedly throughout the film. It was little things like that as well as jokes like the “we drive through all triangles including your moms” that fell flat for me.
I would say that about 80% of War Dogs is a drama with the remaining 20% trying to be a comedy. For the most part, whenever the film attempts to be comedic, I was instantly taken out of the story. There were a quite a few times where I was really engaged and then some odd attempt of humor occurred that felt completely out of place. I understand that Phillips comes from a comedic background and was trying to lighten the tone but most of the comedy felt as if it belonged in a completely different movie. There were a few moments here and there where there was some subtle humor worked such as the scene where David and Efraim find out how much it would cost to repackage the bullets.
My biggest problem with the film was the character of Iz played by Ana de Armas. Iz is the girlfriend of David and was a very unrealistic representation of a female. I don’t know if Phillips and the other writers have never been caught in a lie but I do know the way they handle lying wasn’t realistically portrayed in the slightest. I’m pretty sure that if any woman found out that their husband or boyfriend whom they have a kid with was lying about working as an arms dealer and doing illegal activity would be incredibly upset and hurt for quite sometime. It would take more than a simple sorry and I love you to fix that one.
The character of Iz just acts upset for a few moments and forgives David so easily. There is even one scene where in the middle of the conversation, he just leaves and the next time the two speak everything is perfectly fine. The film portrays Iz as this beautiful woman who just keeps getting lied to and barely shows an reaction towards it. There is a point where Iz does take action but it is resolved so quickly that it doesn’t feel remotely genuine. This might seem like a silly thing to be bothered by but Iz plays a pretty important role in the reason why David takes the job in the first place. In this day and age, I expect female characters to be better written and not shown as someone who overlooks her husband’s lies and completely ignores the fact that he could be arrested at any given moment.
Based on what I have been read about the actual story that the film is based on, it does look like the character of Iz was made up for the film. I don’t think the real David Packouz had a girlfriend or a kid while working at AEY. Iz was probably written into the film just so there could be a love interest because we all know how the Hollywood formula works. From what I understand about the real David Packouz is that he wanted to be a musician and took the job with his friend as a way to make money to launch his music career. That storyline was never even touched upon in the film at all.
While I don’t think it really matters to those who are interested in seeing the film, you should be aware that there are quite a few liberties taken with the story besides the one mentioned above. Hill’s Efraim seems to be the most accurate depiction of all the characters even though there are a few liberties taken such as his love of Scarface. I am sure a lot of these changes were done to make it easier for the audience to connect with the characters. The site FedBizOpps is the government website that David and Efraim obtain the contracts and where this whole story began. Even with all the liberties that the film does take, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I found most the it to be really engaging. I thoroughly enjoy stories that peaked my interest enough to go home and research the how the actual story played out and this film made me do just that.
All in all, War Dogs is a welcomed summer surprise. Teller and Hill have great chemistry and embrace the material. The “this can’t really be true” story is interesting, entertaining, and engaging. The film works best as a drama rather than a comedy and the lead female character is very poorly portrayed. If you are looking for something different this summer, War Dogs is a solid flick to check out. It is a rather enjoyable way to spend about two hours at the movies.
Scott “Movie Man” Menzel’s rating for War Dogs is a 7 out of 10.