Running Time: 114 minutes
Director: Todd Phillips
Cast: Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Ana de Armas and Bradley Cooper
(Movie House Cinema Press Screening)
In this comedy-drama based on true events, a down-on-his-luck massage therapist living in Miami (Miles Teller) teams up with a mercurial former classmate (Jonah Hill) to try to make it in the arms-dealing business. After starting small, the their company AEG eventually get in over their heads when they land a 300-million-dollar contract with the U.S. government to supply weaponry for forces in Afghanistan
War Dogs is a strange film, it feels terribly out-of-place to be released during the summer blockbuster season, yet it’s probably too lightweight to be released during ‘Oscar-season’ later this year. Much like Adam McKay’s Oscar-winning feature The Big Short, it’s a film with a lot to say, it makes some valid comments and points some stern fingers at the American government, but unlike McKay’s feature it lacks any real satirical bite.
It feels as if Philips is really trying to showcase his dramatic credibility with this feature, an attempt to move away from The Hangover movies and tackle something more substantial. Right from the get go there’s heavy nods to Goodfellas and The Wolf of Wall Street as Teller narrates this feature, setting the tone and trying to put it all into context. Viewers expecting an anti-war film will be sorely disappointed because this isn’t a film that’s interested with the morality of armed-conflict at all, it’s more interested in the economy of war and how that can be exploited by our two central characters.
Therein lies my central problem with this film, very early within the feature I decided I just didn’t like these two ‘war dogs’, I found them deeply annoying and their greed reprehensible. Whilst we’re not necessarily meant to like Diveroli (Hill), his AEG partner Packouz (Teller) is portrayed much more sympathetically, as if he’s been seduced to the dark side by Hill’s charismatic character.
Let me be clear though, I don’t have a problem with either actor’s performance, it’s just the characters they’re playing I couldn’t stand. Hill is on fine form, despite his character’s deeply annoying laugh, he pitches his performance to pure sleazebag perfection. The problem is that Philips is actively asking us to root for these guys and I hated them.
Compare that approach to Scorsese’s in Goodfellas, for most of that film like Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill viewers are seduced by the Mafioso lifestyle; but from the moment Joe Pesci’s character kills Spider (spoiler) the rose-tinted glasses are quickly removed and we see this group of men for what they really are. Even Henry Hill isn’t portrayed a righteous do-gooder, much like Jordon Belfort’s character in The Wolf of Wall Street he simply does what he does in order to save his skin. Scorsese ultimately left it up to the viewer to decide whether we liked these characters or not, but that’s not the case here.
War Dogs is further hampered by a schizophrenic tone throughout much of its first-half, fluctuating between outright comedy and political satire it can’t decide what kinda film it wants to be. It’s not until the final-third that it really settles down and clicks into gear, particularly with the arrival of Bradley Cooper in a cameo appearance as a shady arms dealer, his performance adds some much-needed gravitas to proceedings even if his character does scarely like like U2 frontman Bono.
It’s a shame that the film’s tone didn’t settle down earlier, because the film’s finale is probably its strongest act The inevitable fallout from their actions might feel terribly forced and laboured but it’s important that Diveroli and Packouz face the consequences for what they’ve done: even if these consequences do seem to be unfairly lenient and feel like nothing more than a wrap on the knuckles by the US Government.
Overall it feels terribly baggy, clocking in at nearly two hours it trudges through its runtime like it’s wading through treacle; unlike The Wolf of Wall Street which managed to zip through its three-hour runtime at breakneck speed; but then an endless array of drug-fuelled orgies will probably do that for you. Sequences like the ‘fictionalized’ road-trip from Jordan to Iraq are ultimately superfluous to the overall narrative and only slow the narrative down.
Sadly War Dogs just feels like a real missed opportunity, it’s trying to sell itself as a satirical comedy in the mould of The Big Short, but it’s just to smug and self-assured for its own good. It points plenty of fingers, but the film never really manages to land any real heavy blows. Philips at least proves he’s competent at handing more adult-oriented material and hopefully we’ll see more of the same and less of the chauvinist edged comedy we’ve seen from him in the past.
Better than expected, but still lacks any real satirical bite.