Film Review – War Dogs (2016)

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War Dogs

Todd Phillips seemed to get himself in a bit of a muddle with his previous movie, the third and final part of the Hangover trilogy. The description on the tin said ‘comedy movie’, but the contents looked more like Ocean’s 11. Neither one thing nor the other, it was a bit of a mangled mess, giving you a sense that Phillips: either didn’t know what kind of film he was supposed to be making, or did but decided to make something different halfway through.

Caught in a sort of celluloid no-man’s land between a cynical look at the world of modern arms dealing and a romping bro-down knockabout comedy, War Dogs attempts to do a lot, but finds Phillips stuck in similar distorted territory. Based on the real-life adventures of David Packouz and Efraim Diveroli, the movie tries to keep a bunch of plates spinning at once but, despite having an interesting story tucked away, it’s a confused effort that wears its Scarface/Goodfellas influences too brazenly and never seems to do justice to its source material.

Packouz and Diveroli made a packet during the Iraq War selling arms to the US Government through their arms firm AEY. Their tactic involved hoovering up less lucrative looking contracts and dealing with less than savoury arms traffickers around the globe. Their initial success came to a halt when they found themselves unable to fulfil an order to the Afghan Army and attempted to source illegal ammunition from Albania. Flying by the seat of their pants, their story of short-term success and subsequent downfall is a genuinely fascinating one. That it’s presented in such a messy, underwhelming fashion here is a shame. Phillips has hitched his wagon to something inventive, but seems to be more interested in aping Scorsese than pushing forward with a vision of his own. While watching War Dogs you get a sense of the politics of the movie, but too often it’s drowning in coarse innuendo or continual shouting.

Phillips looks lost again here. Is this a snide look at politics and the business of war in the vein of The Men Who Stare at Goats or Lord of War; or is this sub-Wolf of Wall Street gangster posturing and unpleasantness? Well, it’s a bit of everything and nothing all at once. It doesn’t help that Phillips clearly finds the pair hysterical and is all too happy to let them off with a proverbial slap on the wrist when they get really nasty. And any movie that gives inveterate Instagram douche Dan Bilzerian time and/or money needs to have a long, hard look at itself.

[rating=2] | Chris Banks

Drama, Crime, Comedy | USA, 2016 | 15 | Warner Bros. | 26th August 2016 (UK) | Dir. Todd Phillips | Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Bradley Cooper, Ana de Armas, Kevin Pollak