War Dogs is a story so ridiculous it couldn’t possibly be real – but it is. From director Todd Phillips (The Hangover trilogy), this is a comedic drama based upon true events (notwithstanding the fact that they use composite characters and undoubtedly embellish). It stars Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street) and Miles Teller (Whiplash).
The pair play 20-something friends David Packouz (Teller) and Efraim Diveroli (Hill), who reunite in Miami Beach after not having seen one another since high school. When they reunite, David is at a loss what to do with his life and money is a real issue. He has a live-in partner, Iz (Ana de Armas from Knock Knock), who becomes pregnant. He’s is a massage therapist, a profession he gives up to try to sell high thread-count cotton sheets to aged home care providers, but that idea turns pear-shaped. Efraim, on the other hand, appears to have the Midas touch. He deals in little-known military contracts with the US government during the Iraq War and has more cash to splash around than he knows what to do with. Efraim offers David in on his operation and a 30 per cent cut of his business, which also has a silent partner, Ralph Slutzky (Kevin Pollak) – a man who owns many dry cleaning outlets.
David is a quick learner and before you know it the pair is raking in big money and living the high life. While David has his initial reservations about selling armaments for war, he overcomes that but decides not to be so forthcoming with his girlfriend, which will inevitably lead to problems. On the business front, all is looking rosy, but is not without its hitches; which involve gun running and some rather hairy situations. However, it is only when Efraim and David land a mega-deal that they find themselves in over their heads.
The film also stars Bradley Cooper (American Hustle) as a shady arms dealer in the big league, with whom David and Efraim hook up. The screenplay is by Stephen Chin, Todd Phillips and Jason Smilovic, based upon a Rolling Stone article titled “Arms and the Dudes” by Guy Lawson. War Dogs reunites Phillips with several of his collaborators from The Hangover trilogy, including his director of photography Lawrence Sher, production designer Bill Brzeski and editor Jeff Groth.
Like The Wolf of Wall Street, this is all about talking big and excess. Everything is an illusion and yet somehow the dynamic duo managed to get away with their shenanigans for so long. All this went down in the mid-noughties, so not all that long ago.
It is a funny, fascinating and engaging story, with some excellent performances from the key players. War Dogs also has a good look to it – I am talking about the locales shown on screen and the way they are presented. Jonah Hill channels his persona from The Wolf of Wall Street, while Teller is far more restrained, but his character is inevitably caught up in the madness of the situation. Brad Cooper adds a touch of menace.
Rated M, War Dogs drew me in and kept me involved until the final credits, and scores a 7½ out of 10.
Director: Todd Phillips
Cast: Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Ana de Armas, Bradley Cooper
Release Date: 18th August 2016
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television