Today: March 3, 2024

War Dogs

War Dogs tells the story of two reunited friends meddling in the big business of arms dealing. It’s a punchy and funny buddy film that tows the line between its jokes and a modern parable. Todd Phillips weaves a film that’s likely to satisfy casual audiences but may leave others wanting more depth. It’s brimming with eighties nostalgia through its music, colours and camerawork; harking back to the morally ambiguous films of that time, sending the viewer on a voyage vicariously through the characters to the unattainable lifestyle of the mega rich. The door opens to a secret world of sin but it fails to go further than a glorification of drugs and subtle racism from Efraim (Jonah Hill), which leaves something to be desired and raises the question of why it’s there other than a weak attempt to shock by inclusion alone.

There’s an important message about ethics and morality to be potentially delivered to a Grand Theft Auto generation who might be watching, as the gun running duo aspires towards the illusory American dream literally inspired by Scarface but this isn’t achieved nor particularly attempted. Miles Teller as David Packouz leads us through the story with regular narration but gives a measured performance of realism that contrasts Hill’s larger-than-life unpredictable character as the two navigate business and disaster. There is some great comedic delivery from both and Hill’s odd laugh as a punchline (which seems to be recycled strangely from Ken Jeong in Phillips’ previous Hangover films) is a welcome quirk. A special mention should go to Ana de Armas as Liz who gives warmth and heart in her underdeveloped role as Michael’s wife. Bradley Cooper is menacing as Henry Girard, bug-eyed behind his sunglasses and chilling in the climax.

While the humour and hijinks on its surface are enjoyable, War Dogs seems a lost opportunity to comment on its themes of war and arms. It might be considered bad timing to make light of these issues or in another perspective highly topical to explore. Not fully committing to what it intends to be, at times this results in tonal issues in which you’re unsure whether to laugh or cringe. This will be a matter of taste for the viewer, who will choose whether they go along for the ride with Efraim and David in their sliding morals without a hiccup, tapping into an absurd male fantasy and not over-think the situations presented.

 

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