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War Dogs

 

War Dogs is the latest offering from director Todd Phillips, (director of The Hangover and Old School) which stars Jonah Hill and Miles Teller. The plot is the true story of David Packouz and Effraim Diveroli, two young Jewish Americans, who take advantage of the increased demand for arms in the middle east at the beginning of the twenty first century; to become personally wealthy.

It would be easy to look at the poster and cast list for this film and make a lot of prejudgments, after all the market has been saturated with J'onah Hill-esque' comedies which tend to follow the same pattern – young guy smokes weed, young guy meets girl who doesn’t smoke weed, young guy persuades girl that weed isn’t that bad but cuts down a bit. The opening scene of War Dogs however, makes it clear that this is not going to be just another simple stoner comedy. In a scene reminiscent of the opening of Goodfellas the film starts with David Packouz being bundled out the back of a car - a freeze frame and the line “I’m David Packouz and I’m an international arms dealer”.

Goodfellas isn’t the only film that War Dogs can be compared to, indeed, there are consistent references to Scarface throughout, (see promotional posters) and the main characters refer to their love of the Al Pacino classic throughout. The question is therefore, can a Todd Phillips film, starring Jonah Hill live up to the comparisons it clearly wants the audience to make with gangster classics.

The first reason my answer would be yes is that Jonah Hill has put on a performance worthy of any classic gangster film, both likeable and terrifying it is a reminder of characters created by Joe Peschi in his pre Home Alone hay day. Anyone who has read the Jon Ronson book ‘the psychopath test’ will recognize symptoms in Hill’s character that clearly point towards the Effraim being an unhinged and terrifying but likeable psychopath that if he had been played too heavy handedly could have come off like a cartoon villain. It’s uplifting to see Jonah Hill, who has twice been nominated for an Oscar, developing into perhaps a much greater actor than even the biggest fans of 21 Jump Street or Superbad would have imagined he could of become.

The other great credit of the film is the politics it deals with. Charting the rise of privatized arms dealers in the Middle East, the ease at which it portrays characters could make money from death machines, as well as the wealth available to be gained gives a strong political message without ever feeling preachy or unbelievable. Todd Phillips is currently producing the mini-series Black Flags about the formation of ISIL and is clearly showing ambition to be involved in more serious projects and War Dogs shows an ability to understand a political situation at both the human and the global level. 

The film is not without faults however, some of the ‘stoner comedy’ moments have for my liking become truly boring. Drugs can be fun I’m sure, but just watching people smoke them wasn’t funny the first time and now after what seems like thousands of American films with Seth Rogan smoking drugs watching more actors smoke is something I’m happy to never do again. Fans of Pineappple Express or Superbad might be appeased by this but it felt at times that the comedy was getting in the way of the drama and the best comical moments came from characterizations rather than unnecessary weed smoking.

Also a worrying trend in Cinema seems to be the two dimensional female character, Ana de Armas plays Iz, a character so bland they didn’t give her a second name or even syllable and puts in a truly abysmal performance. Perhaps this was a common trait in the classic gangster films that War Dogs aspires to be but this seems a poor excuse for a character that feels like it was written purely to serve a purpose.

That aside however War Dogs is a great film that is both dramatically satisfying, eye opening and has some great comic moments.

 

War Dogs Poster UK
Cinema-Scoop.com Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)
Visitor Rating: 
5
Average: 5 (1 vote)
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UK Release Date: 
Friday, August 26, 2016
USA Release Date: 
Monday, August 15, 2016