You really have to be careful when a film promotes itself to be “based on a true story/events/moments/experiences/accounts/anecdotes/etc.” While yes, there may have once been a priest who performed an “exorcism”, I highly doubt it got to the ridiculous heights of people spewing projectile blood from their mouths. Films often take a lot of liberties to make things more “exciting”, but that’s not always a bad thing. War Dogs, based on true events during the Iraq War, concerns David Packouz (Miles Teller), an aimless massage therapist who has a baby on the way and no real pathway to a decent life. He runs into his childhood best friend, Efrain Diveroli (Jonah Hill), an international arms dealer who offers him a job at his company AEY. As their business starts booming, it becomes much riskier and much more dangerous.

It’s interesting to see a director like Todd Phillips, who comes from a raunchy comedy background like The Hangover, tackle material as serious as the Iraq War. He doesn’t really get deep down into the politics of the actual war itself, but more so into the morals and ethics of the kind of business the characters run. I appreciated that it wasn’t overt with an agenda, but was more set out to tell a story. I wasn’t really a fan of his style, though, as it was a bit too frenetic and choppy for my taste. It reminded me of last year’s Legend, starring Tom Hardy, which I claimed felt somewhat like a poser Martin Scorsese film. A main character narrating the story edited to catchy rock music, intercut with montages of violence and debauchery. It makes for an easy, brisk way to tell the story, but I never felt too emotionally invested.

Miles Teller and Jonah Hill are both fantastic together, with a great chemistry and difference in their characters. Jonah Hill plays an amazing psychopath, whose cunning wit and understanding of people’s weaknesses gets them deeper into trouble and success. Teller plays off him very well, in an understated, more grounded performance; attempting to balance his violent and unethical work life, with his crumbling family one. The pair were great to watch on screen and every time they were, I was captivated. While dramatic liberties were clearly taken, with car chases, kidnappings, and the like, I was actually having fun watching their antics, while also being disgusted in their actions. I love when a film plays with your emotions that way, especially when the actors are as great as they are.

When the duo separate and we mostly focus on Teller’s character is where the film didn’t really work for me. It was your typical man has to do dirty business, while lying to his wife subplot. The scenes with her were used to demonstrate the different sides to Teller’s characters and how his actions are affecting everything around him, but they didn’t really carry much weight for me. It didn’t help that actress Ana de Armas wasn’t very good, but it’s not like she had a whole lot to work with anyway. This was supposed to offer a dramatic thrust of the film, but when we weren’t watching the duo and their antics, it didn’t feel like it had much of a story to tell.

While the true events were clearly embellished in order to make the film more exciting, I still had a good time with War Dogs. Watching two of Hollywood’s finest young actors with great chemistry run around through the Middle East and run guns is a load of fun, even if a lot of the dramatic beats didn’t really quite hit home with me. It’s great to see Todd Phillips attempting to branch out to more serious material, but maybe he’d be better off not having a hand in the script next time. He clearly has a good eye and his own distinctive visual style, but once he finds his own voice, it’ll be very interesting to see.


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