Directed by Todd Phillips Starring Miles Teller, Jonah Hill, Film Review by Kieran Freemantle
Based on a true story, War Dogs is the first serious film from The Hangover trilogy director Todd Phillips - his attempt at a Martin Scorsese style film.
David Packouz (Miles Teller) is a 22-year-old college dropout who’s estranged from his family, working as a massage therapist for wealthy clinics. David is offered the chance to become the business partner with his old school friend Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) - bidding on small military contracts, the crumbs the big companies ignore. Despite David's anti-war feelings he accepts the offer to support his growing family, leading to a meteoric rise and fall for the pair.
When the trailers for War Dogs were released I personally thought it looked like the douchebag version of the Nicolas Cage film Lord of War and War Dogs does meet some of those expectations. Both films do touch on similar material, looking at people becoming arms dealers - committing bigger and bigger deals before they get found out. They even have a similar opening, Lord of War had the famous credit sequence of a bullet being made before being shot into someone's head, War Dogs showed the value of all the equipment on an American soldier.
War Dogs is more like a gangster film, having the same rise and fall narrative like many movies in that genre. War Dogs makes many unsubtle references to Scarface; David and Efraim are big fans of the film, they have a big poster in their office and the film even has a similar plot trajectory; men in Miami quickly go up the ranks of an underhanded world, making bigger and bigger deals before their arrogance and crossing the wrong people leads to their downfall.
War Dogs also copies a lot of Scorsesisms, particularly from Goodfellas, Casino and The Wolf of Wall Street. Like those Scorsese films, War Dogs starts with a scene that actually takes place in the middle of the film; it has a voiceover narration, shows men living a life of excess and as well as having a subplot involving the main character's troubled relationship. War Dogs shares many of Goodfellas' plot beats whilst like The Wolf of Wall Street shows people who become incredibly wealthy very quickly by doing amoral things and offers a critique on an aspect of American society - The Wolf of Wall Street was an indictment of the unvented capitalism whilst War Dogs takes aim against the Bush administration’s running of the military. Even the soundtrack had the air of Scorsese to it, using songs like 'The Passenger' and 'Behind Blue Eyes' during the run time. There were a number of rap and hip-hop tracks as well but the intention behind them was clear.
The casting of Jonah Hill also forces comparisons with The Wolf of Wall Street. Both Efraim and Donnie Azoff are both drug addicted, prostitute users who would do anything for a quick buck. Efraim is even worst, he is rash and volatile and the lowest of the low. Hill is essentially the Joe Pesci type character in Goodfellas and Casino, a hothead who could only get away for so long regarding before his reckless behaviour would lead to their downfall. Teller as David was more sympathetic, just a stoner loser who has to shape up - but the real David Packouz has a cameo, so he probably wouldn't have wanted to get involved with a film that portrayed him so poorly.
War Dogs also bares some similarities to The Big Short - both are made by directors who are known for making comedies and have decided to tackle a serious subject matter - The Big Short being about the financial crash. Since The Hangover, Phillips' films have had a darker turn and the critical reception for each of them was worse than the previous one. War Dogs is really a drama with comedic moments, and starts out like it was meant to be comedic. An early scene features a massage client deliberately dropping his towel yet it soon tempers to the occasional witty line and Hill’s obnoxious asshole act as the film progresses.
The visual styles of Michael Bay films also make an appearance in War Dogs - mainly the use of colours and filters. Miami looks like it did in Bad Boys 2 and Pain and Gain - the use of saturated oranges in the Middle East were like the Transformers whilst Albania was filmed with a drab, grey look [how Hollywood generally sees Eastern Europe]. An action set-piece where David and Efraim try to smuggle guns into Iraq could have fitted in a Bay film if it had more explosions. Despite being marketed as a comedy War Dogs is much more serious than it was advertised. Phillips certainly wants to be seen as a more serious filmmaker, essentially making a Scorsese style story as if it was made by Michael Bay.