The photo above has nothing whatsoever to do with the review to come. I just couldn’t shake off the inevitable War Doge memes while looking at the featured War Dogs poster. I beckon the floodgates to open. Much meme. Such poster. Wow.
Now that that’s out of my system… And here’s the the original Rolling Stone article by Guy Lawson from 2011 if you’d like some context before we get into this review.
That said and done…
Director Todd Phillips’ War Dogs brings some of his key trademarks here: the strong duo dynamic between Miles Teller’s David Packouz and Jonah Hill’s Efraim Divaroli (in similar veins as School for Scoundrels, Due Date and, somewhat, The Hangover), shocking scenes of humour and edge in the vein of War Dogs’ terrorist near-ambush (à la Due Date‘s Robert Downey Jr’s silent fury and The Hangover‘s gang run-ins) and infusing humour into topical issues (à la arms profiteering in War Dogs and possible police brutality in The Hangover). If nothing else for its overarching topicality, War Dogs is my favourite Todd Phillips film yet.
The movie while sometimes seeming a mite longer – given the cold opening being in the latter half of the film – and topical than any of director Phillips’ recent films, has just more topicality than humour. The plot clearly follows Teller’s Packouz and is narrated from his perspective. The excise of certain stretches of biography from the original Rolling Stone article here focuses the film on the core Teller-Hill dynamic. Please refer to our subjective plot act-by-act appraisal at the bottom for more information. Taking a cue from Collider’s John Campea, Teller also works as the audience’s entry point into the film’s world of arms dealing.
Specifically, specifically, specifically, the core relationship between Miles Teller and Jonah Hill is, apart from recurring appearances by Bradley Cooper, is the acting appeal of watching this film. Approaching their dynamic from more of an, admittedly, buddy-cop -esque angle, Teller and Hill work as foils to each other and their counterparts other halves.
I have not acquired the Martinez-Winding Refn discography just yet, that’s for when the War Dogs soundtrack (and hopefully score) is released on iTunes tomorrow. That said, composer Martinez’ score takes a backseat to the great third-party soundtrack which, is personally and given the perceived tone of the film, works really well.
Notwithstanding War Dogs’ war-related themes, there is no shaky-cam here. Cinematographer, and prior Todd Phillips collaborator, Lawrence Sher lets you see the film with an aesthetic that is consistent with The Hangover and Due Date, especially the Las Vegas skyline shots from the former, daytime desert scenes in the former and the nighttime ones from the latter. I actually can’t shake the nighttime desert scene comparison now.
Very simply, if you’re a Todd Phillips fan, you will enjoy this for the comedy and may even ponder over it for its topicality. If you aren’t this is a film with a twenty-year-old experiencing the arms dealing trade and his journey into and out of it is something anyone can relate to.
(While the opinions and observations cited above are the authors’ own, the following sources were used to secure facts for the above article: Content.TIME.com, GuyLawson.com, IMDb.com, RollingStone.com)
The following is a solely subjective analysis of War Dogs’ plot and act structure as seen through the authors’ eyes and the definition of an act as a scene which ends with a story-continuing decision by the protagonist.
Plot (in context of what the chief protagonist wants to do): David Packouz wants to be someone who doesn’t have to kowtow to anybody.
Prologue: a cold-opening in an Albanian (industrial?) yard; David is seemingly about to be killed.
Act 1: David goes with Ephraim after the funeral; he hears about his recent life.
Act 2: David chooses to visit Ephraim’s office and decides to join his work.
Act 3: David chooses to go to Jordan with Ephraim; the Iraq trip works.
Act 4: David chooses to show Ephraim the details about the Afghan contract.
Act 5: David (and Ephraim) choose to meet Henry Girard; next, they’re off to Albania.
Act 6: David (and Ephraim) choose(s) to repack the Chinese-made bullets for ‘untraceability‘.
Act 7: David chooses to confront Ephraim over his Henry-eliminating intentions; Ephraim acts in his self-interest.
Act 8: David flies home and retires from AEY; the two are outed shortly thereafter.
Epilogue: David meets Henry in Miami (by chance?); the film ends shortly thereafter.