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War Dogs - Review

War Dogs

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

TODD Phillips, director of The Hangover series, makes a bid for semi-serious status with War Dogs, a comedy-drama based on an outrageous true story that also boasts a dark heart.

Taking his cues from Martin Scorsese’s similarly-themed The Wolf of Wall Street, Phillips opts for the head-rush approach to tackling his tale in that he allows things to unfold from the perspective of its two protagonists.

As a result, the resulting film feels as morally bankrupt as Scorsese’s drama, but sometimes just as fun.

Miles Teller plays David Packouz, a struggling massage therapist, whose chance reunion with former Junior High best friend Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) sets him on an unlikely journey involving arms dealing to the US Army during the Bush-Cheney invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Based on the 2011 Rolling Stone article, The Stoner Arms Dealers, the film shows how Diveroli took Packouz under his wing and taught him how to exploit the arms industry for their own ends and make millions of dollars, no matter what kind of risks they had to take in the process.

One deal sees the duo delivering Berettas to American troops in Baghdad, and unwittingly driving through Iraq’s Triangle of Death, while another involves a trip to Albania in order to secure another high-profile shipment [of AK-47s].

Yet while there’s certainly an outlandish, head-rush quality to such moments that are shot through with the same sense of manic energy that Phillips often brought to his Hangover films, there’s also a darker undertow to proceedings here – which is where the film really thrives.

As success breeds more risk-taking, the friendship between Packouz and Diveroli becomes strained, as does Packouz’s relationship with his girlfriend Iz (Ana de Armas). Packouz has trouble keeping tabs on his own lies, while Diveroli’s capacity to stitch people up, or con them out of their money, also comes to the fore.

And it’s during these moments that the two leading men are given plenty to work with. Teller convinces as the moral compass, struggling to come to terms with an increasingly dangerous and unethical situation, and becoming the eyes and mind of the audience as a result. He’s content to leave the more showy stuff to co-star Hill.

And just as he did in Wolf of Wall Street, Hill here turns his Diveroli into a larger-than-life sleazeball; a cold, calculated, Scarface worshipping con artist whose only loyalty is to the dollar. It’s a performance that mesmerises at times, by virtue of how glutinous it becomes… to the point where anything that comes out of his mouth becomes a potential lie.

Bradley Cooper also crops up as a rival arms dealer, whose similarly icy demeanour adds some welcome intensity to certain scenes, while de Armas acquits herself well in the token role of Packouz’s long-suffering girlfriend, doing the whole put-upon thing very well, even if the material doesn’t give her that much to do.

Where the film comes unstuck slightly is in its failure to really probe the questions it raises: such as how two kids were able to profit for so long by bidding on US military contracts? Or whether the Packouz character was as conscience stricken as the screenplay suggests? Or even whether the film’s final scene actually took place?

What’s more, the gun lobby isn’t really taken to task as much as it should be, much like the bankers who occupied Scorsese’s Wall Street film. Is Hollywood starting to set a dangerous precedent in the way that it could be perceived as glorifying these kinds of modern ‘criminals’?

War Dogs could – and perhaps should – have been a lot harder hitting. As things stand, it’s a frivolous take on a compelling story, driven by two excellent leads. You will be entertained.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 1hr 53mins
UK Release Date: August 26, 2016