Director: Todd Phillips
Cast: Miles Teller, Jonah Hill, Bradley Cooper
Running Time: 114 minutes
Release Date: August 26th
During the roll out for The Wolf of Wall Street, one thing never in doubt was the fact that Jonah Hill had the time of his life making the film. In countless interviews, he gleefully recounted snorting mountains of Scorsese’s fake cocaine, rolling around in Quaalude-induced comas with Leo Di Caprio and finally getting to behave like the drug-addled degenerate he’d always dreamed of playing. It appears Hill had such a good lark playing a repellent guttersnipe that he’s signed up for another walk on the wild side with Todd Phillip’s War Dogs. This time, however, Hill is afforded an increased presence and free rein to go as large as he wants with the character. And boy does he go big in this one.
Based on a true story, War Dogs is the tale of two twenty-something stoners who decide to eschew the traditional post graduate life of internships, minimum wage and zero hour contracts and instead explore the road less travelled as international arms dealers. Miles Teller plays David Packouz, a massage therapist to the over-moneyed Miami set, attempting to get his struggling bed sheet business off the ground while dealing with the financial pressures of an unexpected pregnancy. A chance encounter with his old friend Efraim Diveroli (Hill) shows Packouz that there is considerable money to be made in trafficking weapons to the military. Against his better judgement, he throws his lot in with his old friend and the pair soon find themselves cast as unlikely merchants of death.
The film rattles along at a tremendous pace, with the early sequences particularly impressive, as the duo reconnect, rediscover their friendship and enjoy the early spoils of their exploits. A gun running trip from Jordan to Iraq is one of the film’s best sequences, alternatively thrilling and hilarious. But as the money begins to pile up and their operation expands, it becomes clear that trouble lies around the corner and that arrives in notorious arms dealer kingpin Henry Girard, played by Phillip’s regular Bradley Cooper, along with the possibility of $300 million contract in Afghanistan. We all know how this is likely to play out but it doesn’t make the epic unravelling any less compelling.
Criticism of the film will inevitably be aimed at the somewhat lightweight and light-hearted treatment given of these lords of war: amorality is rife throughout the film and any comeuppances are of the white collar crime, slap-on-the-wrist variety, but setting this aside, it is a fascinating glimpse into the loopy world of arms dealing where two stoners with little more than cell phones and an internet can find themselves dealing directly with the Pentagon.
The Hangover has proven to be something of a gift and a curse. Once a purveyor of enjoyably low-brow comedies such as Old School and Road Trip, Phillips has been caught in a cycle of unsatisfying sequels and substandard attempts to recreate that film’s success and it’s intriguing to watch him sink his teeth into something altogether meatier on this occasion. His comedic fingerprints can be found on the script with plenty of moments of genuine humour, though his direction at time can come across as rather derivative and unoriginal.
The same cannot be said of Hill, however, who is without doubt the film’s stand out performer. With an unnerving hyena laugh and a swagger all his own, he manages to exude genuine unhinged menace and insecurity in equal measures. If you’re looking for a moralistic tome on the ills of war and gun running, it would be probably be best to avoid this one, but as two hours of decadent and depraved cinema, it’s well worth your time.