Thursday, 25 August 2016

War Dogs

Movies about getting rich from war are few and far between and when they come out, they aren't exactly hits. The only two that I could think of were Lord of War and Three Kings, both of which show that in the end nothing works out the way you planned. The thing with those movies is that they were completely made up. So what happens when you take one of the real stories about arms trafficking and you make a comedy about it. A whole lot of nothing special.

David Packouz (Miles Teller) is trying to make a living off his massage business in Miami. He wishes things could be better, but he just can't figure it out. That's when he meets his childhood friend Efraim (Jonah Hill) for the first time in years. Efraim has a business in which he sells weapons and various other military equipment to the government through defence contracts. This business becomes quite lucrative and soon they are at the top of the industry. This is until they meet Henry Girardi (Bradley Cooper), who offers them 'help' on one of the biggest contracts in history.

The fact that War Dogs is based on a true story is somewhat restrictive in what you can do with this movie. Todd Phillips has made an attempt to stick as close to the actual story and as a result the movie ends up a little bland. While the story takes the characters to exotic places like Iraq and Albania, Las Vegas and Miami, the events of the movie are kind of boring. A movie like this needs to be crazy and over the top, and this only verges on both of those. A lot of the movie is spent talking about the economics of war and looking at websites for arms contracts and I'm sure a documentary about that would be very interesting, but this is supposed to be an action comedy.

Speaking of the comedy, War Dogs doesn't have too many funny moments and when there are some, they tend to be negated by the seriousness of the events. Todd Phillips' comedy is really about what happens when you put characters in crazy situations and you see their reactions (a road trip to stop a sex tape or experience your baby being born, losing a best friend) and this situation isn't at all surprising or shocking. The funniest recurring thing throughout the film is probably Jonah Hill's choice of laugh, but you know when that's coming.

As for the performances, there isn't anything too exciting going on unless you want to unravel the mysteries of Miles Teller's facial scars that are so distracting. He seems a bit too bland to me, as though he's a blank canvas ready for a character to superimposed, but nothing comes. As I said, Jonah Hill has a very specific laugh that he chose for this movie and that's about the only standout he gives to the character. For me, the most interesting performances were given by Ana de Armas and Bradley Cooper, who both have very little impact on the story. While Ana de Armas, who plays David's girlfriend, gives him a little character motivation, she has a big screen presence. The other presence felt is that of Bradley Cooper, who despite having minimal screen time, is a menacing force throughout the second half of the movie.

Unlike Lord of War, which knew the lives of arms dealers were crazy (why else put Nic Cage in it), War Dogs tries too hard to follow the real events that it's covering, almost as if saying "trust us, true stories are way wilder than something we could come up with". And while that may be true of many crazy real-life exploits, it's not the case with this one. Instead you end up wishing they had made up some more exciting things to pad out the movie.

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