I haven’t had more fun at a movie in 2016 than I did while watching War Dogs.
This movie is flat-out absurd, but that’s totally fine because the true story upon which it’s based is even more so. War Dogs documents a brief time in the life of two young men who get swept up in arms dealing during the Iraq War. David Packouz (Miles Teller) is a vaguely disillusioned masseur living in Miami and wondering when he’ll get the chance to make something more of himself when out of nowhere his old friend Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) reenters his life with mysterious wealth and a ludicrously carefree attitude. As it turns out, Diveroli has uncovered multiple ways to manipulate the U.S. army’s inexhaustible need for arms and ammunition, and once he ropes Packouz in, the two become a dynamic duo of underground dealing.
You can imagine how it goes from there, for a time. Diveroli gets more and more caught up in wealth and power (and is not-so-subtly revealed to be a complete scumbag), while Packouz tries to embrace the rush of his new lifestyle without sacrificing his love or devotion to his wife and young child. But as they get deeper into bigger and bigger arms deals, their differing priorities begin to cause a rift. And then, everything comes to a head in the midst of attempting to secure a $300 million contract from the Pentagon.
Despite its dire subject matter, this movie is hilarious. Writer/director Todd Phillips is best known for his work on Old School and The Hangover, and while War Dogs certainly represents a foray into more serious filmmaking, his familiar comedic fingerprints are everywhere. For the most part, it’s Hill who gets the laughs. He portrays Diveroli as a hysterical blend of Tony Montana, Jordan Belfort, and a maniacal sociopathic goofball from his own imagination. Even a distinctive laugh that Hill unveils early (and often) is very funny, albeit rather unsettling.
Teller’s character is more of a straight man, but he still gets a chance to flash some charm that we haven’t quite seen from him yet. Memorable in The Spectacular Now and outstanding in Whiplash, Teller is finally fun in War Dogs, and it feels like exactly the right move for his career. With this performance, he proves to have depth and range in addition to leading-man charisma. Packouz is the most relatable and sympathetic character in the movie, and yet he’s still someone who can believably snort cocaine alongside Diveroli and pose for pictures in war-torn Baghdad.
While War Dogs is part-buddy comedy and Hill and Teller drive the entertainment, this movie has important things to say. It doesn’t beat you over the head with an anti-war, anti-gun, or anti-military message, but it will almost certainly astound you with some of its raw data about the amount of money needed for modern warfare. Phillips wisely opens the film with a crash course on the price tags associated with the American army, such the $17,000 to $18,000 needed to outfit the average U.S. soldier—and the dollar amounts only get more sensational after that.
That this kind of money was (and surely still is) tapped into by third-party arms dealers is the reason War Dogs is a noteworthy story. It’s guaranteed to make you think, even without a single preachy message that’s relentlessly driven into you. The idea of “making you think” can mean anything from leading you to question mankind’s priorities to causing you to fantasize about being an arms dealer. Whichever route you take, it’s easy to appreciate a movie that can make real and important points about the modern world without sacrificing humor or entertainment value.
To put it in a sentence: War Dogs is a lot of things, and they’re pretty much all good.
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