If there was one thing I could guarantee I would see during my numerous visits to the cinema over the summer, it was the trailer for ‘War Dogs’ before the film I was about to watch started. I have sat through that trailer more times than I dare count, but it hadn’t deterred me from finally going to see the film upon its release. In fact, despite knowing the trailer like the back of my own hand, I still thought the film looked like something I would enjoy and was really looking forward to seeing Miles Teller and Jonah Hill on-screen together.
‘War Dogs’ follows the story of David Packouz (Miles Teller) and Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) who are are reunited years after Diveroli moved away to help his Uncle sell guns. Before their reunion, Packouz is a massage therapist struggling to make ends meet and looking to make some extra money on the side to support his pregnant girlfriend. Packouz pumps all his savings into making luxury Egyptian cotton sheets, in the hope that the retirement homes of Miami will make his venture a success. After failing to sell a single bed sheet, Diveroli comes to Packouz’s rescue shortly after their reunion and offers him a job at his new company, AEY, which is currently a one-man business, bidding on US Government contracts to supply the military with weapons. After filling various small orders, AEY begins to expand and look into bigger contracts to start making life-changing sums of money. Packouz and Diveroli successfully bid on a $300 million deal but soon find they may be over their heads as they face setback after setback, until they decide it’s time to get their hands dirty and do anything and everything to make sure the contract is fulfilled.
Teller and Hill’s characters are very different in both personality and their outlook on life; Teller’s Packouz has his feet firmly on the ground, wants to earn an honest living to support his family and make sure there’s ice cream in the freezer. My first impression of Hill’s character, Diveroli, is that he’s a little rascal that has his head in the clouds and talks a big game. It later becomes apparent that actually he’s more of a paranoid sociopath with a coke habit and a short fuse (which is arguably more fun). Hill brilliantly portrays his characters dark descent over the course of the film, so much so that you’ll find yourself thinking over the film to figure out at what point this change starts to come to fruition.
I think the film has a more serious tone to it than the trailers showed. The trailers seemed fairly intent on showcasing comedic snippets of the film, which are actually few and far between in the final product. With Todd Phillips (The Hangover) at the helm, there could have been a temptation to head down the comedic route, but I’m really glad they didn’t sell out and turn ‘War Dogs’ into just another Todd Phillips comedy, instead going for a darker tone and more of a drama to match the seriousness of the characters’ actions and repercussions of said actions in the film. ‘War Dogs’ at times felt like the “arms dealer” version of ‘The Big Short’, by which I mean there is a lot of jargon and very wordy dialogue that doesn’t make a lot of sense to the general audience, but we are quickly thrown back into the loop as Diveroli breaks it down and explains everything for Packouz when he starts at AEY. Indeed, this film also mirrors ‘The Big Short’ in the sense that a typically comedy-minded director (Adam McKay in that instance), has taken on something a little more serious, and succeeded.
On the odd occasion, the plot feels as if it’s been stretched out and I must admit it lost my full attention for a short period or two during some slower scenes, but the performances by the cast were enough to keep me focused on what was happening. The film itself is pretty fast paced and there’s always lots going on, which in turn made it more noticeable when things got a bit slower, but thankfully the slow parts were short and sweet. I really enjoyed the cinematography on display too, and I think some of the scenes were shot superbly to match the mood and tone of the film at different points. Likewise, the music choice plays a big part in setting the tone in both the lighter and happier scenes and the darker and more serious ones.
I would highly recommend giving ‘War Dogs’ a watch if you like darker dramas with a hint of comedy. I have a feeling this film won’t be to everyone’s liking, but watching Teller and Hill on-screen together was just as great as I’d hoped and I really hope we get to see them in something a little different together in the future. If you find yourself enjoying the film, I highly recommend reading the Rolling Stones article, named ‘Arms and the Dudes’, about the true story that the film is loosely based on.