FILM REVIEW: War Dogs

Forget the oft-opined notion that war is the heroic act of defending one’s country and fellow countrymen in some glorious display of do-or-die patriotism. War, we are informed, is business. Pure and simple.

And ‘War Dogs’ is the term used to describe folk that choose to make the industry of war their business, as well as the name of director, Todd Phillips’ excellent new film.

Based upon true events, it tells the remarkable story of David Packouz (Miles Teller), and his transition from unenthused masseur to big-time gun-runner, and the kind of massive life upheaval that you’d imagine would accompany such an unusual and dramatic career-switch.

 Reacquainted at a funeral with wayward childhood friend and former partner-in-crime, Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill), and on discovering the rather dubious line of business that he’s involved in, David is quickly tempted to throw in the massage towel – as it were – and team up with his old friend; lured by the promise of potential big bucks and the glamour and excitement of the murky world of gun-running.
Efraim has done well for himself and his business is profitable from his relentless scanning for opportunities, but he dreams of bigger things. With his new partner on board, through a combination of hard work and considerable dedication, he and David quickly begin to make a proper name for themselves.
Within such an unpredictable and volatile industry, however, trouble is never far away  and when logistics and multiple red tape seems set to scupper the deal of a lifetime that they’ve secured with The Pentagon, the boys have no alternative but to take matters into their own hands and fly out to the Middle East, where they soon find themselves right up to their necks in the ‘triangle of death’, in a last-ditch effort to see this particular deal through to some sort of satisfactory conclusion. Failure here is not an option.
Madness? Most certainly so. Naive? Undeniably. But lacking ‘cojones’ is not something you could level at this pair. Call it youthful exuberance or simply a devil-may-care attitude; it’s the kind of behaviour that may well get you killed, but ultimately gets the job done and succeeds in lifting this fearless pair right up into the big time.
Wealthier than in their wildest dreams, and very much the go-to team for shady war-mongers the world over, David and Efraim are set for life, and whilst not being entirely honest with girlfriend and soon to be mother of his child, Iz (Ana de Armas), about his business dealings, David’s life and outlook has never looked so good.
There is however always a nagging feeling that the pair of them are beginning to get in way above their heads, and that such runaway albeit potentially transitory success as this has a nasty habit of bringing about its own set of problems, particularly when in this case, the trio of ills – carelessness, greed and betrayal – begin to rear their ugly heads.
Ever Since Martin Scorcese’s masterpiece, Goodfellas, charted the rise and fall of mobster, Henry Hill, with such slick panache and effortless cool, many a film has either consciously tried to emulate this directorial style, or been accused of having tried to. Few however have succeeded.
War Dogs does indeed owe a great debt stylistically to Scorcese, and crucially, it succeeds where so many others have failed. It’s a truly rip-roaring and hugely entertaining affair that bounces along with considerable energy and momentum, and in Jonah Hill, it boasts an actor that’s right on top of his game just now. To some extent, his role here as Efraim, revives and expands upon his money-hungry character, Donnie Azoff, from another excellent Scorcese piece of more recent times, The Wolf of Wall Street.
Efraim and David’s story is one as remarkable as it is improbable; living the dream (of sorts) – although I suspect that most of us would consider driving assorted weaponry deep within enemy territory in Iraq, in order to fulfil American army requirements, to be more of a nightmare scenario – but each to their own.
David Packouz and Efraim Diveroli; they built a seemingly unassailable empire with all guns blazing, only to shoot themselves in the foot! War Dogs does a sterling job of recounting this most outlandish of tales.

 

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