Quick Hit: A middling “Based on a True Story” movie that straddles the comedic lines of real life.
The movie opens with a narrator (Miles Teller) who essentially tells you the plot of the movie without having to look it up. It’s the story of two kids who get mixed up in things they don’t belong in. Now, often times, this can create a classic. Look at Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me, based on the short story “The Body” by Stephen King for an example of this done well. However, these aren’t preteens – their boys right on the edge of manhood, or at least they were in real life. We’re talking about the story of Efraim Diveroli and David Packouz.
Teller plays Packouz, who is just down on his luck when Diveroli (Jonah Hill) arrives back into his life. Things happen, and eventually Diveroli lets Packouz in on his secret. He’s now an international arms dealer, making money off the government’s outrageous bidding wars. He essentially is the middle man that buys arms and sells them. Because Packouz has a girlfriend (Ana de Armas) he jumps into the madness.
Well, let’s just say he probably jumped in for more than that.
Where War Dogs really succeeds is in its believability. The idea that two stoners could make millions off the government seems outrageous, until you see the scenes of them doing the research. It really sells the idea, which is good, because it really happened. Jonah Hill is really good here, somehow managing to come off sleazy and nice all at the same time. Along with that, he has a large streak of crazy that runs throughout the whole film. Sometimes it comes out with just some bugged out eyes; other times it’s a creepy laugh that you can tell is all surface and no substance. Teller doesn’t sell much here, but the script doesn’t give him much to sell – essentially, the story is that he is a good guy that gets caught up doing bad things to support his family. Definitely not the first movie to do that story!
What was roughest for me was the back and forth between extreme comedic scenes and just raw political commentary. I don’t really have a problem with movies with a message – everything people do has a message, and film is an extremely subjective medium – ie, it’s impossible to be objective when making a film, writing a film, or writing about a film. Everyone has things that work well for them, and this film just didn’t handle it well. It may have been that the film was written by Todd Phillips of the Hangover films – there, the comedy was outrageous on purpose. Here, stories are invented for the plot to seem more exciting than it was. This isn't always a bad idea - but you can tell what sensation stories were added.
Another thing that the film does poorly is how it seems to only portray the different areas of the world with weather patterns and colors. Algeria is shot in blues, Iraq in oranges, and the U.S. through no lens at all. I understand it – Algeria is not a happy place, Iraq is hot, the U.S. is awesome. It just seemed a bit heavy handed to me.
However, the film is rather entertaining, and a decent story is present throughout. I will commend Phillips here – you are rarely bored, except maybe by Teller’s life in the beginning – but then you are supposed to be. I’m going to give War Dogs a “C+“.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"