Review: War Dogs

“It was meant to be derogatory but we kinda liked it.”

So it is official. Jonah Hill is absolutely great at playing that sleazy character who you should hate, but he is soooo good at it, you just love him.  Just like in Wolf of Wall Street, Hill nails a character with a sense of dark humor that can go from smarmy character to likeable guy without it feeling forced.  Playing the best friend of Miles Teller definitely helps since he for sure has the guy next door thing down.  These two play off of each other so well and portray such a brotherly relationship that the only part that fell a little flat for me was how Tellers’ character, David Packouz, reacts to being betrayed. It’s as if they like each other so much that he has a hard time “acting” mad at him. Or maybe he is just a bad actor, although you wouldn’t think that from this film.

War Dogs is a straightforward movie that tells the story of 2 young arms dealers that find themselves making millions off the war in Afghanistan. While starting off as a struggling masseuse/salesman, Packouz is under immense financial strain as he learns his girlfriend is pregnant. After sinking all his money into a failed sales venture and reuniting with childhood friend Diveroli (Hill), the pair team up to make easy money bidding on smaller military contracts that the big defense companies don’t bother with. Seems crazy to chase crumbs right? But those crumbs are thousands of dollars. It’s an easy and legal gig. Buy ammunition and guns at low prices and resell them to the U.S. military. But like with any get rich plan, there is always a hiccup.

You have probably gathered from the description of Hill’s character that the hiccup comes in the form of Diveroli. After coming up with creative (aka illegal) ways to deliver some of the aforementioned goods, he goes on to betray his best friend and so begins the spiral downward.  While I am sure this ‘based on a true story’ movie left out some details or even personally fun anecdotes, the general gist could be summed up rather quickly. Two young guys create a questionable company in order to go after low grade military contracts, make a fortune, greed overtakes one, and the rest is somewhat downhill. I mean, they are white guys committing what would be considered white collar crime so the punishment is almost laughable.

While the story can be easily summed up, what drives the movie is the actors. Hill is brilliant with a laugh so creepy and sleazy the audience was with him every time he released his weird, wheezy, chuckle. Teller is the perfect complement to that with his average Joe life where the struggle is real, but the moral compass is pretty straight.  Their enthusiasm and comradery reminded me of Blow, where George Jung and his best friend Tuna have a blast making a fortune from smuggling drugs.  While Blow tells a much larger scale story with nationwide effects, War Dogs is a little more low key, never leading to a national drug craze. The pair are smart enough to stay under the radar until they find a larger contract that he just can’t resist. Of course, that is the contract that leads to their demise.

As I sat in the Prince Theater laughing at some of the absurdities in front of me, it dawned on me that this isn’t fiction. This absurdity is provided by our good ol’ U.S. of A government. Told through Packouz’ perspective, he is our narrator who makes it clear from the start of the movie, War is a for profit business, he says those that would tell you the contrary are either in on it or just plain dumb. War Dogs offers us a look at the war from that perspective, profits. The title is a term that actually refers to people like Diveroli and Packouz, arms dealers that are safe on American soil, profiting from the war, far removed from the brutal realities our armed forces deal with on a daily basis.  While one trip to the Middle East gives them a small glimpse of the chaos, it’s nothing compared to what really happens. I actually found myself laughing several times while thinking, “Damn, is this really funny though?” The subject matter definitely has a dark side, but the chemistry between Hill and Teller, combined with the current republican insanity we are currently witnessing, makes you realize, you kind of have to laugh. Especially when Diveroli does his chuckles all sleaztastic like.

Never focusing on or showing the fighting or the realities of war helps keep the story a little light. However, the locations tend to be stark and bleak, serving as a reminder that while we are going to have a good laugh through this story, it is still dealing with a dark subject.  The friendship portrayed by the talented pair brings you right along for the ride. As much as Diveroli comes across like a greasy, used car salesman, you are with him. You feel the burn when he eventually betrays his friend and you’re shaking your head in disappointment as you watch his silly mistakes unravel the whole thing.

That’s the thing with Americans, even when we are watching a movie about war profiteering, we are along for the ride when we see someone get rich quick. We are all sick of the so called American dream that says work hard and you will prosper, we want to see people go from nothing to millionaires overnight and we don’t care what they are doing to get there, our greedy little hearts have been conditioned to get excited over watching people make quick, easy money. But that’s what we want form movies, right? To see fantasies come to life. While it’s likely that the majority of people’s fantasies don’t involve federal crimes, we can still enjoy a story that sees someone make a quick come up, especially when they get smacked with a dose of reality at the top!

Overall War Dogs is a great movie. Well-paced, well shot and excellently acted. The soundtrack is perfect and brings you into it even more.  Not your typical war movie, this is the tale of two friends and what happens when trust and loyalty are thrown to the wayside for the almighty dollar.  Todd Phillips managed to take some very talented actors known for their comedic prowess and throw them into roles that might have you completely hating the character had it been portrayed by anybody else.  There is no telling how this movie will be received by a public being enraged daily by a hate filled, oppressive, republican rhetoric. However, I believe this is meant to ease you into some blatant truths with the help of laughter.

Heather Fox, is an aspiring cook and artist in her free time. By day she teaches Literacy for the Boys&Girls Club of Philadelphia and by night she dons the role of foXXXy contin, hard hitting blocker for South Jersey Roller Derby. This native Philadelphian and self-proclaimed Geek Girl, resides in Port Richmond where she continues to feed her love of pop culture with all things horror, comic book, and Star Wars related.

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