The newest Todd Phillips film isn’t so much like the films he’s famous for; The Hangover trilogy; and more like a ‘true story’ from another famously comedic director; Adam McKay’s The Big Short.
Based on a 2011 Rolling Stone article by Guy Lawson, the film follows David Packouz (Teller) who reconnects with his old school friend Efraim Diveroli (Hill) who he finds out has since become a gun runner. Worried that he won’t be able to support his pregnant girlfriend, Packouz enters the employ of Diveroli, who promises to make him rich. After travelling to the Middle East to ensure one of their deals go through, their status as gun-runners begins to rise and they find themselves circling one of the biggest and most infamous arms deals of the War on Terror.
In spite of the questionable choice working on the mahoosive flop that was Fant4stic, Miles Teller has shown time and again that he’s a pretty damn good actor. His role doesn’t call for him to push any boundaries; but he’s very affable in the role of Packouz.
And to top of it off, the chemistry between him and Hill’s Diveroli is beautiful.
Diveroli, meanwhile, is anything but affable. While he is amusing, and his awkward laugh is guaranteed to bring some chuckles, his character, to be blunt, is a bit of an arsehole. If you read the actual article about the pair, both come off as questionable characters, but in this film, Diveroli is clearly the guy you want to keep an eye on.
For story’s sake, the rift between the two characters’ personalities has been widened, so audiences can have someone to root for, and someone they can love to hate.
In the context of the film, it works. But for anyone wanting a story that ties pretty closely to the truth, it does not.
That would be one of the few flaws of the film. It’s promoted as being ‘based on a true story’, and the trailer makes you think the tone of the film is going to be part drama, part action and part comedy. And while, yes, those tones are all present; in reality the film is much more serious than the trailer might make it seem and does stray from the real-life story.
If we take the scene (seen in the trailers) where they drive their Beretta pistols from Jordan to Baghdad through the valley of death as an example; the film gets that out of the way in the first act, along with a lot of the comedy and slows down in favour of the more serious parts of the Packouz/Diveroli partnership. The article, meanwhile, mentions the Berettas once; and that’s only in passing as a deal that fell through. There’s no mention of the pair going to Baghdad.
But for Hollywood’s sake, the film obviously wasn’t going to follow the exact path of the Rolling Stone article, and the story is trimmed down and altered to meet audience requirements.
Some characters are added. Some are taken away for the sake of drama. Some are altered, such as Bradley Cooper’s character (Henry Girard, based on the Swedish arms dealer Heinrich Thomert) and expanded upon greatly for the sake of more tension and an interesting pay-off.
The end result is a beautifully shot and well-written feature, that not only grips you with its questionable characters, but also educates you on what was going on behind the scenes of one of the most controversial conflicts of our time.
War Dogs may not have the constant excitement or laughs that everyone is expecting, but it does deliver a solid and engaging story about economics and corruption that’s well-cast and definitely worth a watch.
Dir: Todd Phillips
Scr: Stephen Chin, Todd Phillips, Jason Smilovic
Cast: Miles Teller, Jonah Hill, Ana de Armaz, Brandley Cooper
Prd: Bradley Cooper, Mark Gordon, Todd Phillips
Music: Cliff Martinez
DOP: Lawrence Sher
Runtime: 114 Minutes
War Dogs is in cinemas now.