“It’s chaos here.”
If War Dogs is to be considered a chaotic film, or even a little shady in its motivations, then one must at least try to scrutinize to what effect such disorder hampers the movie. Yet after trying myself, I’m still unable to do so, or to pin down the matter-of-fact message behind it all. Maybe it’s not there, maybe it’s hiding, maybe it’s so in your face that I shamefully overlooked the entire point. Regardless, War Dogs succeeds at being an entertaining and light crime film with thought-provoking ideas about the profiteering behind warfare, but falters when it comes to being about any one thing in particular. This believe it or not true story has a sharp edginess to it that can’t cut all the way through the fairly matte finish.
You should know that the picture is admittedly pretty lenient with factual details. This isn’t a biopic or a divulging tell-all look into the unbelievable arrogance of two young entrepreneurs. War Dogs prefers fiction over fact for the sake of making a shorter, tighter film. That’s so long as the conclusions match up and the crowd gets the same gut feeling. In that regard, Todd Phillips’ movie achieves a minor accomplishment. Topics of greed, betrayal, critical thinking and ingenuity are the pieces that keep the plot moving forward. We’re told a lot of this information through voice-over, as well as having the core concepts become one with the scene. But what’s missing is the how to all of these events. A scene’s purpose – and the overall movie – can’t come full circle without having a starting point. Bundle that with the story’s unwillingness to allow its dramatic events to fully embrace a comedic tone and you’re left with a puzzle.
Miles Teller serves as our narrator and principal lead David Packouz, a man tired of being bossed around, wanting to hold the reins to his life once more. Giving massages to an older male clientele for $75 an hour near the beaches of Miami isn’t quite his dream, so he quits and invests his life-savings into whole-sale bed sheets to sell to retirement homes. You can guess how that goes. David’s luck is running out, and with his girlfriend Iz (Ana de Armas) announcing a surprise pregnancy, so are his options to provide. Enter old Junior High best friend Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill). The proposition is a complex one made simple by the minds of cheats: Efraim bids on arms deals for the U.S. Department of Defense and he needs somebody to help lighten his load. A partnership forms, progressing from small time “legal” crooks to federal crimes of fraud and conspiracy. The script strains the bromance between these two guys, holding them back from either being foolhardy enough to sympathize with or reaching levels of corruption we can actually rebuke. War Dogs sees both sides, yet for whatever reason chooses to camp out in no man’s land.
There’s also Bradley Cooper playing a double-dealing higher up in the arms dealing world with whom the two enter into conflict. His character helps facilitate dramatic flair but also adds viscosity. We do get good chemistry between Teller and Hill though, two of the industry’s most in-demand talents for a reason. I’m as big a Teller fan as you’ll find; his self-confidence is meant for acting. He’s fine here too, if a little one-noted due to his role. The real draw is Hill, a self-aware actor playing a swashbuckler we can easily impugn. Whereas David tells cheap lies, Efraim walks the walk along the plank of deceit, living as a two-faced blowhard with loads of chutzpah. Hill’s performance is likable because he makes this man go from enterprising to so fiercely loathsome. So who are these guys then? Are they middlemen or deviants? It’s hard to tell because Iz stands as the film’s only uncorrupted character, a woman who remains far too prone to forgive and forget her boyfriend’s actions. She knows right from wrong while these money-grubbers draw a line easily erased, and had Phillips taken a specific stylistic approach, War Dogs could’ve done more than straddle both sides so as to appeal to the broadest audience possible.
“We had to go for it.”
Rating: 3 out of 5