War Dogs (2016)

wardogs_2016_poster
  • Time: 114 min
  • Genre: Comedy | Drama | War
  • Director: Todd Phillips
  • Cast: Miles Teller, Jonah Hill, Ana de Armas, Steve Lantz

Storyline:

Two friends in their early 20s (Hill and Teller) living in Miami Beach during the Iraq War exploit a little-known government initiative that allows small businesses to bid on U.S. Military contracts. Starting small, they begin raking in big money and are living the high life. But the pair gets in over their heads when they land a 300 million dollar deal to arm the Afghan Military – a deal that puts them in business with some very shady people, not the least of which turns out to be the U.S. Government. Based on true events.

2 reviews

  • The rise and fall of the American dream gets the veritable Todd Phillips treatment. And after 15 years of directing explicit comedies, he decides to venture elsewhere with the meta-drama, War Dogs (my latest review). Good for him. “Dogs” closely resembles the 2006 vehicle Lord of War except that it’s far from dull. With a certain amount of flamboyance, a more entertaining flow, and Bradley Cooper in a steely-eyed, supporting role, War Dogs is the kind of movie Lord of War wish it could have been. Bravo Todd the bod. You went out of your comfort zone to channel a little Martin Scorsese (the use of freeze frames, voice-over narration, and freewheeling camera movement) and the result is one of 2016’s best. “War, huh good God, y’all”. Indeed.

    Anyway, “Dogs” is based on a true story and takes place anywhere between Miami Beach, Florida to Albania to Jordan to the largest city in Iraq (that would be um, Baghdad). There are decent performances from the two leads (Jonah Hill and Miles Teller), a favorable use of dialogue-inserted title cards, and biting soundtrack tunes spanning at least four decades. Yeah I was a little unfulfilled with the way “Dogs” ended or if it even had an actual ending. No matter. This Warner Bros. release is sumptuous in every frame. Whether it’s giving us long shots of high-rise condos in South Florida, rapid editing by way of business computers (and bookkeeping), plenty of characters smoking dubage, and even a poolside scene straight out of Scarface (the flick War Dogs references frequently), “Dogs” is a step above most cinema endeavors that have hit theaters in the dog days of August. Just call director Todd Phillips the surprising lovechild of 90’s Scorsese and Andrew Niccol. The only difference is that he is not quite as self-serious.

    With a running time of just under 2 hours (114 minutes to be exact) and featuring the stunning Ana de Armas (Knock Knock, Exposed) as its love interest, War Dogs chronicles two twentysomethings named Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) and David Packouz (Miles Teller). David lives with his pregnant girlfriend and is just getting by financially with his massage and (nursing home) bed sheet business. Efraim is his best friend and just happens to be an arms dealer operating out of Los Angeles. Hill’s character saddled with all cockiness and will, takes David out of his life of doldrums all the while showing him how to make some real money. They team up to form a company and land a $300 million dollar arms deal that gets them in over their heads. There are random bits of humor, suggestive language, a slight of hand towards the Bush administration, some mild violence, and plenty of guns (duh). Ultimately, this is Todd’s best and most full-grown work. He should do films like this more often and stop resorting to his frat boy tendencies. Rating: 3 and a half stars.

    Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars

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  • Jonah Hill is Humpty Dumpty as Tony Montana in War Dogs, the terrific and terrifically unbelievable based-on-true-events dark comedy that also marks a step forward from director Todd Phillips.

    On the surface, War Dogs seems par for the course for Phillips. Based on the 2011 Rolling Stone article “Arms and the Dudes” by Guy Lawson, it’s powered by the same perverse thrill from watching the escalating shenanigans of the unlikeliest of bad boys as the genuinely good The Hangover and its two less satisfying sequels. One could already see evidence of Phillips’ deftness at maneuvering the often puerile comedy into impossibly dark corners in those films, and it’s even more blazingly on display here. This may be a true story, but Phillips uses the bare bones of the truth to craft a film that is just as much an extended riff on The Hangover and, more significantly, Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street and Brian De Palma’s Scarface, two prime examples of how greed and ambition can warp the American Dream.

    David Packouz (Miles Teller) is a 22-year-old Miami Beach college dropout working as a massage therapist whose entrepreneurial ambitions constantly reach dead ends. (Hoping to sell quality bedsheets to retirement homes in Florida, he’s rejected by one potential buyer who points out that providing these bedsheets to the elderly would be akin to wrapping lizards in cashmere.) Enter childhood friend, Efraim Diveroli (Hill) – overweight, super-tanned and so wildly unpredictable that he oh-so-casually takes a machine gun from his car and fires it in the air in response to some drug dealers who have ripped him off. It’s clear that Efraim is the devil in disguise but David, swayed by his reptilian charm and confidence and even more motivated by his girlfriend Iz (Ana de Armas) announcing her pregnancy, agrees to come and work for and with him.

    War is an economy. Uniforms and weapons don’t come for free and huge conglomerates like Halliburton and Lockheed Martin were profiting from being awarded no-bid contracts by the Bush administration. As a safeguard, the government established a program which allowed anyone to bid on U.S. military contracts, a program exploited by Efraim, who scours the official government listings for the little jobs that are usually overlooked. Efraim lives off these crumbs – a single crumb could net him 200K over an eight-week period – but it’s not too long before he and David aim for more and more lucrative contracts, especially after they pull off a 600K deal by actually smuggling the weapons themselves from Jordan to Baghdad, a sequence that is delirious in its danger and absurdity. The drive through the Triangle of Death is child’s play compared with what awaits them in Albania, where efforts to run with the big boys demonstrate how far out of their league they truly are.

    Phillips maintains the energetic zip and zing throughout the film without losing sight of either the comic moments or the sleaziness at the film’s core. The actors are all exemplary. Phillips brings Hangover star Bradley Cooper in for a quietly menacing cameo. De Armas may not have as substantial a role as Michelle Pfeiffer and Margot Robbie did in Scarface and The Wolf of Wall Street respectively but, like those actresses, she makes a strong impression in her most high-profile role to date (she co-starred with Keanu Reeves in both Knock Knock and Exposed and has just been cast in the Blade Runner sequel). Teller is fantastic but, let’s face it, this is Hill’s film all the way.

    With a laugh like an asthmatic hyena and eyes that never come alive unless money is on the horizon, Hill ensures that Efraim both seduces and repels. He’s the kind of guy you would laugh at…but from an extreme distance. He’s essentially a child, but one whose playthings are sex, drugs and lots and lots of money. Watching him bulldoze his way through Jordan is plain hysterical. “I have to go first, I’m American,” he announces as he waddles his way to the front of an airport queue. “It’s a Muslim country. How am I even supposed to get a blow job?” he wails as he and David are forced to wait several days for an answer to their back-up plan. “Tell him I’ll give him a hundred bucks for those shades. Tell him gibberish,” he orders a child translator. Yet he has no qualms about doing what he needs to do to protect himself, even if it means endangering David’s life. Hill never lets even the slightest semblance of decency enter Efraim; the more monstrous Efraim becomes, the more Hill proves what an extraordinary talent he has become.

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