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War Dogs (2016) Review

"War Dogs is brimful with entertainment and style"

by Steve Pulaski

War Dogs is endlessly entertaining moral bankruptcy on film that unravels before your eyes like a sloppy, uncontrolled explosion that leaves you soaked in dirt, sweat, and disgust. It takes the newfound formula that Martin Scorsese's Wolf of Wall Street did a few years back in that its focus is on story that could've been a more conventional, straight-forward caper that subverts itself into one that capitalizes upon excess and black comedy, only this time, more grit and gusto is thrown in for good measure. If crime-dramas and stories about the interworkings of war are going to become this much more compelling, I'm ready to just sit back and enjoy this raucous ride.

The film is based on the stunningly true story of David Packouz and Efraim Diveroli (Miles Teller and Jonah Hill, respectively), two twentysomethings who were friends years back, who reconnected and became international arms dealers for the American government during the early years of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. Before reconnecting, David was haplessly trying to find ways to make end's meet, giving massages to rich men for $75/hour and desperately trying to sell expensive Kasimir bedsheets to nursing homes until he realized that "nobody cares about old people." When he sees his pal Efraim, donning the latest in high-end apparel, he wonders how he himself has made his riches.

After Efraim explains, and eventually shows, how he has made his money, spending late-nights on public websites that showcase auctions and offers for heavy artillery, he offers David a job working with him. Together, they create "AEY Inc.," a company bent on international gun-running and cutting shady, questionably legal deals with everyone from government officials to commanding officers stationed in the Middle East. In addition to going as far as to retrieve several hundreds of Berreta firearms seized in Jordan to drive them all the way to Baghdad on an impromptu delivery, David and Efraim's biggest deal involved finding hundreds of millions of substandard Chinese AK ammunition in a warehouse. The two went on to outsource the repackaging of the ammunition into generic cardboard boxes and sell them to The Pentagon in efforts to bypass the American embargo with China.

War Dogs
Directed by Todd Phillips
Cast Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Steve Lantz
Release Date 19 August 2016
Steve's Grade: A-

All of that involved getting entangled with Henry Girard (Bradley Cooper), the man rumored to have sold the rope that hung Saddam Hussein, so we're told, in addition to numerous trips out the country, and numerous snags along a path that nobody could've imagine would be so convoluted.

Even considering the heavy dramatization, War Dogs is brimful with entertainment and style from the moment it starts. Director Todd Phillips, who, if nothing else, has learned how to direct chaos and camaraderie thanks to The Hangover trilogy, keeps things coherent and slickly articulated here. In conjunction with cinematographer Lawrence Sher (who also worked on The Hangover), the film has a sweaty, almost grimy quality amidst all the wealth and luxury that's frequently flaunted. It goes beyond my aforementioned comparison to The Wolf of Wall Streetbecause of the fact that this film shows the gutter of various locales rather than frequently focusing on the antiseptic and beautiful locations that film heavily emphasized.

The seamy qualities brought upon by the film's look and feel are only further accentuated by way of the characters. Having said that, Jonah Hill gives the best performance of his career here, playing his usual roly-poly self, but adding a sense of violent impulsion, a snide, cocksure grin, and a frightening injection of unbridled confidence that renders him almost an unstable narcissist. It's as if his character in Wolf of Wall Street watched Leonardo DiCaprio's Jordan Belfort become who he was and what he ended up, took detailed notes, and left the stock business the next day to become a gun-runner. His contrast is Miles Teller, who uses the same kind of composed but shaken energy he made so profound in Damien Chazelle's Whiplash to be such a fantastic presence here, as well. When the two are in frame together, which is quite often, coupled with the film's stylistic and cinematographic prose, the film is a fierce force of nature.

Though style, character relations, and personalities can make a film on their own, the glue fusing all of this together is the narrative, which is compellingly and clearly told. While you might end up like me at the end, still not fully able to grasp the business of gun-running and black-market solicitations, you come out of War Dogs the same way you do films like The Wolf of Wall Street, The Big Short, and even Straight Outta Compton. They are true stories told with incendiary urgency, with a focus on being entertainment as well as thematically rich works that portray revealing and troubling portrayals of our society. This sort of neo-crime-drama - one with loud and colorful visuals, coarse language, excess, and brutally honest themes of disloyalty, corruption, and greed - are a sharp contrast to the old ways and one I'm wholly ready to embrace.

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