I was fortunate enough to see an advance screening of War Dogs (thanks again M!) today, the new film from The Hangover Trilogy director Todd Phillips. The film stars Miles Teller and Jonah Hill as two small time Jewish arms dealers who sell small time weapons contracts to the U.S. government to help them supply their troops overseas. Going in, I thought the film was going to be a familiar, raunchy stoner comedy mixed with unlikely situations. I was pleasantly surprised this is not the case.
War Dogs is actually a political crime film with dashes of comedy thrown in to alleviate the seriousness of the realities these two are in. Teller plays David, a licensed masseuse with a baby on the way who can’t catch a break financially. In comes his childhood friend Efraim (Hill) and you can tell off the bat there’s something off about this guy. He was recently in the business of buying impounded weapons and selling them on eBay. But it’s time for Efraim to step his game up as he returns home to Miami. The two have been friends since junior high and before long, David ends up sucked into the world of arms dealing with Efraim.
The film kind of felt like the lovechild of Lord of War and Wolf of Wall Street, only minus the excess. When Efraim explains the basics of smaller contracts, I immediately thought of Wolf’s explanation of “penny stocks”. In this film, David tells us his story via voice over, breaking down what the circumstances of the job means for us as well as his personal thoughts and opinions. I appreciated the voice over work and didn’t think it intruded on the film at all, in fact the film is probably better for having it. Miles gives a great performances as David, showing his reluctance and his ambition as well as how he copes when he brings (or doesn’t bring up) his work at home, often spinning a web of lies.
Hill’s Efraim on the other hand is a loud, crass, coke sniffing nut who provides the film’s best humor. Early on you’re going to want to punch this guy in the face for his level of scumbag. The main problem however with the film is that I feel the movie would’ve been just that much better without the comedic undertones. I get that Phillips, famous for the Hangover movies is known for that, but the film worked better when it took itself seriously and wasn’t making crude humor jokes. And the film does go to some dark and serious places, showing how rules and regulations will be bent in order to profit more. The film makes constant reference to Scarface and for good reason.
All in all, I enjoyed War Dogs a lot more than I initially thought I would. It’s well paced, well acted and directed feature with a good story and an even better soundtrack, featuring a heavy dose of classic rock. A slow motion gun test set to Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd is a standout, along with appropriate uses of The Who, The James Gang and Aerosmith. It also boasts the most “America” use of Fortunate Son I’ve seen in a long time. The film could’ve used a few less gags and crude humor (an ejaculation joke is repeated a few times in relation to David’s prior employment) but it took me out of the movie, nor did I hate it for having humor. All in all, a film worth checking out.