Starring: Miles Teller, Jonah Hill, Bradley Cooper
Director: Todd Phillips
Running Time: 114 mins
War Dogs is an American film about two men who start dealing with the US military in supplies of small weaponry and arms to the Middle East. As their company and ambitions continue to grow, they land a massive $300m contract with the military, however the complications of dealing with such a large order begins to cause problems.
I was really surprised by this film. Judging by the trailers and the two leads, I was expecting a much more light-hearted comedy-drama, but War Dogs is actually an enthralling and at times intense film. Whilst it still has a good sense of humour, what really shines through in this film is the lead actors’ incredibly striking performances, director Todd Phillips’ ability to deliver such an unexpectedly dramatic atmosphere, as well as the absolutely fascinating story.
So, the most important thing about this film is to go in not expecting a comedy. There are some good laughs here and there, but it’s very clear that War Dogs isn’t trying to be funny, rather a genuinely serious and interesting drama, only with interjections of humour to lighten the mood and provide some unnerving moments.
Let’s start off with the two central performances from Miles Teller and Jonah Hill. For the whole film, we see the events unfold through the perspective of Teller’s character, a down-to-earth, new father who just wants to find a way to make ends meet for his family. Immensely likable and relatable, Teller is excellent from start to finish, and even when we begin to learn about some of his character’s less morally justifiable actions, he works brilliantly as the person to guide you into this world of arms dealing, whilst also retaining a shred of reality.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have Jonah Hill, who is terrifying. In just one of the many elements of the film highly reminiscent of The Wolf Of Wall Street, Hill plays a highly ambitious and morally dubious man who will do anything to make more and more money. From the start, his character is immediately unnerving, thanks to his terrifying cackling and clearly short-tempered nature, but as the film unfolds, Hill becomes more and more intense in the role, adding a brilliant level of dramatic depth that we really haven’t seen from him before, yet another hugely impressive surprise from this film.
The two work together brilliantly throughout, and are instrumental in making the wild ride the two men take through the world of international arms dealing both absolutely fascinating and surprisingly intense. What’s more is that director Todd Phillips also plays a big role in getting those performances out of the actors.
In general, his direction here is excellent, as he directs two very contrasting on-screen personalities and ties them together brilliantly. The entire film’s atmosphere is a stroke of genius, as he retains the odd comedic relief, but still confidently delivers a very dramatic story that, after coming at you out of nowhere, is enthralling from start to finish, something that’s very difficult to do.
But the real reason that this film is so good is because of the story. Very loosely based on a true story of two men who got into a similar situation, it is a truly enthralling watch. The screenplay is excellent, detailing some of the most complex dealings in very simple and easy-to-understand ways, without coming off as didactic of patronising. What’s more is that the story’s focus on Teller’s character, and particularly his relationship with his wife over the course of the years he works in this business, gives an emotional core to everything that’s going on, making it feel a lot more important, and as a result interesting, than two guys hopping over to the Middle East on gun runs.
Excellently paced and featuring an intense snowball effect towards an enthralling climax, I was hugely surprised by how much I enjoyed this film. Its story is fascinating, the two central performances are excellent, and the directing makes its unexpectedly dramatic vibes work brilliantly, which is why I’m giving War Dogs a 7.9.