War Dogs – Review (***)

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It may not quite be The Big Short for the global weapons trade as it so clearly aspires to be, but this equally amusing and frightening true story nevertheless marks an impressive step-up for writer-director Todd Phillips (Road Trip, The Hangover trilogy).

20-something masseuse David Packouz (Miles Teller) is fed up of his well-paid but charmless life when a chance encounter brings him back into contact with old high school pal Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill). Soon enough, Efraim informs David that he’s working as an arms dealer for the U.S. government making money hand-over-fist, and recruits David to join his fast-expanding enterprise. Mayhem ensues.

War Dogs represents a unique brand of stranger-than-fiction storytelling that benefits from the added boost of topicality; be it by way of Teller’s narration vomiting facts on the screen or the sheer insanity of the guys’ adventure itself, it’s clear that something is grossly fucked up with the way weapons are bought, sold, bidded on and generally distributed throughout the world, a fact Phillips clearly relishes in remind us even as the film undeniably fetishes gunplay.

Phillips still keeps the focus more on the fun, seat-of-your-pants thrill-ride above all else, and this is really where the movie shines, especially in allowing Hill to completely cast aside any ounce of restraint as he concocts an unforgettable image of money-hungry sociopathy. From that dirty, gleeful cackle through to his relentless pursuit for more, Hill is clearly having a blast in the role, and his enjoyment is infectious.

Hill may be the best of show by a country mile, but Teller does solid work as the easily-seduced straight man, even if he’s forced to contend with some sentimental interludes with his girlfriend (played by the lovely Ana de Armas) that play as rather pallid and transparently moralistic compared to the focal escapades. Bradley Cooper also re-teams with the director who made him famous in an entertaining bit-part as a slimy, legendary weapons trader.

War Dogs’ tone may raise valid questions of quite where a filmmaker should draw the line between glorification and confrontation, but it also mitigates this somewhat by taking a more factual approach to its crazy scenario than just about anyone could have surely expected from the director of Road Trip and Old School. It touches greatness so many times and ultimately falls pretty short of the mark, but it’s still a compelling mix of smart and entertaining.


War Dogs is in cinemas now


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