- Published Date
- by Frank Wilkins
One need look no further than The Wolf of Wall Street or The Big Short to see that making raucous entertainment out of ludicrous, behind-the-scenes political goings-on is alive and well in Hollywood.
That trend continues with Todd Phillips’ War Dogs, a much less insightful exposé than either of those two films, yet one as equally entertaining. Phillips mostly scales back the political commentary, choosing to let frat-boy stoner humor from Jonah Hill and Miles Teller drive the proceedings. That’s not to say that War Dogs is totally politically neutral, however. It’s difficult to ignore the sense of snaking discomfort and unease brought about by the greedy Bush-era political system that allowed a couple of ne’er-do-wells to make a literal fortune off the U.S. Government’s ineptitude during the second Iraq war.
The story, adapted for the screen by Phillips and Stephen Chin from a Rolling Stone article, is told from the perspective of David Packhouz (Teller), a miserable Miami Beach massage therapist who toils over the bloated, half-naked bodies of Miami’s wealthy for 75 bucks a pop. He shares his modest apartment with recently-pregnant girlfriend, Iz (Ana de Arma). On the side, David tries to sell (unsuccessfully) high thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets to nursing homes. They are both poor and directionless… until gold-chained, greasy-haired childhood friend Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) enters the picture with a job offer too good to turn down.
Efraim convinces David to team up and enter his world of arms trading. Together, they concoct a plan to scour the internet, looking for the small Pentagon defense contracts that the big guys leave behind. “Everyone’s fighting over the same pie while ignoring the crumbs,” Efraim tells David. With billions of government dollars being thrown around on weapons procurement, and knowing that it takes more than $17,000 to equip a single U.S. soldier, even the leftover crumbs can make a person wealthy beyond comprehension in a world with two wars raging in the mid-ought’s Middle East.
Their journey from two-bit losers to legitimate gun runners would be too difficult to believe were it not true. After successfully running a shipment of Baretta guns from Jordan through Iraq’s “Triangle of Death” to reach Baghdad, the pair gain the credibility to eventually wheel and deal their way up the gun-running ladder. But reaching the top, which comes in the form of a $300-plus-million contract, spells doom as their relationship starts to fracture. Ephraim’s greed and hunger for power reveals cracks in their partnership, while David’s relationship with Iz begins to unravel when she discovers he’s not been totally honest about his business dealings.
Though the film might have carried a bit more emotional heft and timely resonance had he done so, Phillips never takes his biting satire too far. Instead, he chooses to put the focus on the two main characters and their ridiculously full-throttle antics. As such, War Dogs isn’t so much a biting political satire as it is a sort of flippant rags-to-riches-to-rags Jonah Hill buddy comedy… but with a dark sardonic undercurrent that sets the irreverent tone of the film. We laugh as if it is another Jonah Hill goofball comedy, while simultaneously cringing at the morally questionable – yet totally legal – playground created by the U.S. government.
War Dogs certainly isn’t without its faults. In addition to a wasted performance by the distractingly beautiful de Arma as the pushover fiancee with little to do other than begrudgingly accept her boyfriend’s lies and misdirections about his new “career,” the film’s third act becomes much too predictable as it gives in to a well-worn “Behind the Music” narrative arc. Regardless, War Dogs is best when it allows us to stop laughing just long enough to remember that we hate the idea of war, but wonder if we’d be okay with selling weapons – for obscene profits – that others use to kill enemies in a faraway land.
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, drug use and some sexual references
Runtime: 114 mins
Director: Todd Phillips
Writer: Stephen Chin, Todd Phillips
Cast: Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Steve Lantz
Genre: Drama | Comedy
Tagline: An American Dream.
Memorable Movie Quote: "This isn't about being pro-war."
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Official Site: http://www.wardogsthemovie.com/
Release Date: August 19, 2016
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: November 26, 2016.
Synopsis: Two friends in their early 20s (Hill and Teller) living in Miami Beach during the Iraq War exploit a little-known government initiative that allows small businesses to bid on U.S. Military contracts. Starting small, they begin raking in big money and are living the high life. But the pair gets in over their heads when they land a 300 million dollar deal to arm the Afghan Military - a deal that puts them in business with some very shady people, not the least of which turns out to be the U.S. Government. Based on true events.
Home Video Distributor: Warner Bros.
Available on Blu-ray - November 22, 2016
Screen Formats: 2.40:1
Subtitles: English SDH
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz, 24-bit); French (Canada): Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1 (640 kbps); Portuguese: Dolby Digital 5.1 English: Dolby Digital 5.1 (640 kbps)
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD-50); UV digital copy; Digital copy
Region Encoding: Region A
The War Dogs blu-ray transfer as handled by Warner Bros is as beautiful as the film is gritty. Speaking of grit, there’s just enough purposeful grain to lend an air of authenticity to the rough, tough shooting locations. Most of the exterior scenes are tinged with gorgeous honey-hued golden hour warmth while bold, bright, colorful interior shots are accentuated by the deep blacks and saturated shadows.
For the ears, there’s just not much here to get excited about. The lossless DTS-HD 5.1 mix is certainly loud, robust, and expertly handled, but this is a dialogue-driven film for the most part, and just isn’t the right kind of action-packed film to give your system a healthy workout.
- General Phillips: Boots on the Ground (00:08:38) - Short, fluff-filled making-of documentary that features sound bites from all the principals and how they so enjoyed working with one another. Move along, there’s nothing to see here.
- Access Granted (00:10:08) - Short, 10-minute long making-of documentary-type feature with interviews from Phillips, Teller, Hill, and Cooper that goes into the Rolling Stone article which spawned the film. Features one of the story’s actual subjects David Packouz, as he discusses his early life and how he, along with Efraim Diveroli, hooked up and made millions by selling arms and weapons to the federal government. Diveroli is mysteriously absent from the piece and is even blurred out when he does appear. The focus on the adaptation process is a very interesting watch for those who dig such stuff.
- Pentagon Pie (00:02:49) - Short animated spoof in the style of this old Schoolhouse Rock bits as two mice humorously take us through the process of how the small mice were enabled to play alongside the big dogs in the government weapons procurement process.