War Dogs is director Todd Phillips’ first directorial endeavour since finishing his tenure on The Hangover trilogy, and it represents a significant change of pace for the filmmaker. Ditching his broad comedic instincts in favour of something more serious. So, is it any good?Tagged as being based on a true story, War Dogs is a mostly fictionalised adaptation of the Rolling Stone article Arms And The Dudes (a much better title), and an engaging look at the world of arms dealing. David (Miles Teller), struggling to make ends meet, has a chance encounter with childhood best friend Efraim (Jonah Hill), a shady salesman who makes a fortune selling guns and ammo to the United States government. Efraim offers David the opportunity to become his business partner, a job he simply cannot refuse, but one that involves lying to his pacifist pregnant girlfriend, Isabella (Ana de Armas) about what he’s actually doing. Choosing to ignore their rule of only bidding for small contracts, David and Efraim team up with veteran arms dealer Henry (Bradley Cooper) to pull off a major job for the government worth tens of millions of dollars.There is a lot of background information to War Dogs, as it delves into the convoluted world of government contracts and arms dealing, which would be unknown territory for most film-goers. Yet, to the credit of Phillips and co-writers Stephen Chin and Jason Smilovic, the film manages to sufficiently convey the stakes and other relevant information in a brisk manner without dumbing down the material. Precarious situations continue to crop up for the boys which are easy to comprehend, and it’s fascinating to see the boys working to overcome such issues.
Phillips visibly channels Scorsese and Brian De Palma here, with stylish cinematography and an eclectic soundtrack filled with songs to accentuate many of the film’s best moments. Efraim is a self-proclaimed fan of Scarface, too, even decking out his office in a movie poster, which is probably reminiscent of Phillips’ attitude towards the 1983 classic.Miles Teller has been one of Hollywood’s favourite new playthings for years, but apart from a couple of standout performances in smaller indies (The Spectacular Now, Whiplash), the actor has not been able to prove himself (the less said about Divergent and Fant4stic, the better). Luckily, he acquits himself respectably here, though he still doesn’t have the presence or gravitas to be a confident leading man. Jonah Hill fares a bit better, playing against type as the unscrupulous Efraim, who leaves you wondering whether you should like or distrust him. It’s an understated turn, but he does have his volatile moments.
The film, while a whole lot of fun, does stumble as it approaches the finish line, with Phillips seemingly unsure of where to end the story. The finale is underwhelming to a certain extent, but luckily it’s not enough to diminish everything that came before it.War Dogs is a definite high point on Phillips’ filmography, which is a relief to see after three consecutive disappointments (2010’s Due Date and the Hangover sequels). It’s also worthwhile in a sea of generic M15+ blockbusters. In spite of its shortcomings, it’s worth seeing. Just don’t expect an instant classic like Wolf of Wall Street or Scarface.
WAR DOGS is in cinemas now.