#REVIEW: “WAR DOGS”
Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
Director Todd Phillips has been working in comedy for nearly two decades. I can re-watch and quote The Hangover and Old School endlessly, and I still have a soft spot for the completely asinine Road Trip. So when the trailers started appearing for War Dogs these past few months, I was instantly hooked. It resembled literally nothing from Phillips career but still looked like a lot of dark fun. What could go wrong?
It is the mid-2000s and David Packouz (Miles Teller) is an RMT trying to make ends meet. David spends some time with his old friend Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) and becomes part of his small business venture filling weapons contracts for the US military. They quickly become successful and expand. But when they become involved in an arms deal worth $300-million, things just begin to go south.
Whether it was Phillips’ intention or not, I was reminded a lot of Michael Bay’s wildly chaotic Pain & Gain while watching War Dogs. Both Films are about average nobodies doing spectacularly illegal things in search of the American Dream. Like Bay, Phillips takes advantage of the Miami setting by loading the Film up with spectacularly colourful visuals. He even makes the grungy European settings look great. But much like Pain & Gain, War Dogs comes off as a misguided style over substance affair. Phillips never seems sure of his Film’s thesis and spends too much time meandering from point to point with no real sense of urgency. He cribs from Scorsese and DePalma (the Film is littered with Scarface references and memorabilia), but is unable to really hone in on the energy of their pictures. War Dogs is easily the most ambitious and out-of-the-box Film Phillips has ever directed, so his mistakes here are still quite admirable. I just hope his next film relies significantly less on bad narration.
Despite the Film’s issues, Teller and Hill are aces as the leads. They both have the right amount of gusto and edge to really sell the plight of these characters. You feel their obnoxious highs and see the results of their awful lows, and the Film does a terrific job of really making you want to see them succeed. While I like Teller in practically everything (Fantastic Four notwithstanding), but Hill is the film’s real revelation. The two-time Academy Award nominee has a total blast as Efraim, really playing into his life of excess and inhibitions. His awkward laugh is infectious and the look in his eyes can be downright terrifying in some scenes. Hill may enjoy snorting coke and blowing his top like Tony Montana a bit too much here, but this is one of the most well-rounded performances of his career.
War Dogs is a noble misfire. What it lacks in substance, it more than makes up for in style and great lead performances. Phillips and his team may have warped what makes this a true story, but the fact remains that this is a timely portrait of foolishness, excess and greed – one that the target audience will all too easily identify with. I just wish it was even half as interesting or energetic as the trailers.
Warner Bros. Pictures Canada release WAR DOGS in theatres on Friday, August 19, 2016.