The Wolf of War Street
Minor spoilers ahead
War Dogs is a wildly entertaining ride that aspires to follow in the footsteps of some of the greatest hustler films of all time (Scarface, The Wolf of Wall Street, Lord of War), but falls short due to a lack of any real consequences for its main characters. Whereas the films that War Dogs looks up to had bitter, impactful finales that showed the high cost of such luxurious lifestyles, Todd Phillips’ (The Hangover, Project X) latest film is less of a cautionary tale and more of an ode to capitalism and war profiteering.
That may sound a bit aggressive, but I don’t mean it to sound altogether negative. War Dogs is definitely worth the ticket price; this “based on a true story” tale of a pair of twenty-something bros hustles and parties its way across the globe in a non-stop ride of thrills and fast money. The story is narrated by David Packouz (Miles Teller), an exhausted massage therapist who is given the chance of a lifetime by Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill), his childhood friend.
If you’re a fan of The Wolf of Wall Street, then the “grand scheme” of War Dogs will sound somewhat familiar. Their idea is to scour a public government domain that lists all of the munitions requests needed by the U.S. military. Most of the requests are already filled out by major suppliers, but the “crumbs” are still worth good money. By buying up all the smaller albeit still worthwhile contracts, the two manage to strike enough deals to finally hit the big time in gun running.
War Dog’s pacing is a standout here, as the film moves from one uproarious moment to the next as fast as the pair’s matching Porsches. It follows a very similar formula as the previously mentioned films, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing as the film still takes on an identity of its own. Now while the technical aspects of the film are well done, Jonah Hill’s performance absolutely steals the show. From his hot-headed, wise-guy attitude to his absolutely hilarious hyena laugh, Hill is without doubt the best part of the film. He’s in total control of every moment he’s in, and his maniacal bravado is consistently entertaining.
Unfortunately, Miles Teller’s turn as David Packouz is a little hit or miss. In some scenes he’s great, but in others he just feels stale. The majority of his less impacting scenes are when he’s with his partner, Iz (Ana de Armas), which is a shame since Armas does a fantastic job playing the well-intentioned wife. Bradley Cooper is also very limited in his screen time as international shady arms dealer Henry Girard, which I found a bit disappointing as the trailers made him out to be a serious antagonistic threat. Ultimately, he really doesn’t do anything besides serve as a plot tool (although a memorable one at that).
My biggest issue with War Dogs, however, is in its lack of impact. The story is fun, but without any real build-up towards retribution, the finale feels devoid of consequence. War profiteering makes the two of them a lot of money, and with each successful order filled their opportunities become bigger and more lucrative. The kicker? All of it is legal. Anyone can access this government auction site, and with a little capital and the right permits, anyone can start buying their way into arms dealing. Wars Dogs is essentially a glory tale of the Republican American Dream.
Now, the crux of the story lies within the timeframe in which it takes place. It all occurs during the Bush administration, where the weapons market, global economy, and global conflict status were all perfectly aligned to provide these two “war dogs” their opportunity. The thing is, Diveroli’s volatile unpredictability is really the only aspect that holds them back. The actual plan itself is pretty genius and foolproof, and frankly, I’m a bit upset I wasn’t able to take advantage of it myself. To quote Diveroli, “[this] isn’t about being pro-war; this is about being pro-money.” The two hustle their way into some serious cash, but the costs of war are something that’s barely even touched upon.
With that said, there are still plenty of things to enjoy with War Dogs. The movie is downright funny, with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments that only add to the outrageous situations the two find themselves in. From running guns through the “Triangle of Death” to shooting AKs in Albania, there are many great moments that’ll put a smile on your face. While Phillips misses the opportunity to make a serious commentary about war profiteering, he still manages to show how war runs the global economy and how much taxpayers spend every year on bombs and bullets. War Dogs doesn’t quite live up to the films that inspire it, but it’s still one hell of a hustle.