This review will contains mild spoilers:

 

Miles Teller and Jonah Hill star in War Dogs, a film about two independent contractors learning to navigate through America’s vast network called the military-industrial complex. Set during the Iraq War, Teller stars as David Packouz, a down-on-his-luck personal massage therapist, and entrepreneur whose life savings he just misinvested into bedsheets for the elderly. His mistake, as he put it, was that no one “cared about old people.” How unfortunate a truism, though don’t expect the film to delve into that aspect of American culture.

Reintroduced to his friend Efraim Diveroli at a funeral, Packouz reminisces on his youth with Efraim, who characterizes their time together by saying they just didn’t “give an f.” But not, Packouz has so much to give an f about: His wife, their coming child, keeping his finances in the black, the war.  But there’s something to be said about living a carefree life, about not giving an f. And with Efraim, maybe not giving an f could lead to mountains of money.

Efraim is a weapons dealer, hoarding all the small, public, requests and orders and fulfilling those contracts which the large weapons manufacturers will ignore. He takes on Packouz as a co-worker, and together they work their way up the ladder, fulfilling larger and larger contracts until they land the dream: a $300 million dollar contract, where they lowballed the competition to squeeze out huge industrial government contractors.

The story is a fictionalized account based on a Rolling Stone article about Efraim Diveroli and David Packouz, two twenty-something young men who pulled the wool over the eyes of the pentagon. The film has a limited number of characters, which helps enhance the characterization of our two leads.

Official Poster.

Official Poster.

Jonah Hill is the actor most people are talking about for starring in this film, and they are right to do so. At the forefront, Hill turns his comedic prowess on its head to produce a performance of a highly charismatic con man. Comparing this role to any of Hill’s others, you wouldn’t notice anything too different: he has the same laugh, the same manner of speech and rhythm and tone, but with War Dogs you realize that there’s a layer of insidiousness in the role. In Hill’s other films, he’s acting. In War Dogs, Hill is an actor playing an actor. Not an actor for the stage or screen, but one who puts on a facade to manipulate others for his own ends. There are two layers of the character that Hill must maintain, and when Hill allows us to see past the facade of Efraim’s character, it feels natural and brilliant.

Miles Teller, though his name is subordinate to Jonah Hill’s in the credits, is the film’s primary character. During the trials and tribulations, it’s Packouz we see deal with the struggles. It’s his life with a wife and child that we see affected. His is the only character whose goals and ambitions extend beyond pure monetary gain, and who is required by the plot to acquire a reconciliation between his old self and the version that his exposure to Efraim created, to atone for his sins. Teller is an attractive but homely man. He doesn’t have the Brad Pitt chin or the Tom Cruise smile. When he grins, the scars of a car accident bunch up into unseemly folds on his chin and create ridges on his cheek. But this is our everyman. This is who we’d be in the story. And it works so well. Teller plays Packouz with an honesty that would make you believe he doesn’t expect a paycheck at the end of all this.

“Let’s go run some guns!” Image courtesy Warner Bros.

The film mostly skirts by the heavy themes and topics you would expect from a movie about war. It focuses mainly on the relationship between Efraim and Packouz, ultimately leading to betrayal, which is to be expected with so much money involved. There is some comment to be made on the government’s use of small firms and contractors to help with weapons sales, but that is a debate that is covered well enough in other forms of media. It comes off as a gentle condemnation rather than an in-depth explication of the issue.

 

Final rating: War Dogs gets a 7.5/10.

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