Review - War Dogs
I've seen this movie before. Actually, let me rephrase that: I've seen every part of this film somewhere in other various films. From the moment War Dogs starts, you'll think Martin Scorsese got a little drunk and decided to direct his version of Lord of War, only he accidentally brought the script for The Wolf of Wall Street to work and just said f*** it. Yes, what I'm trying to say is that War Dogs is basically like Lord of War, and its main characters are kind of like Jordan Belfort and Donnie Azoff only not nearly as good.
War Dogs takes many liberties with the true story it is based on. The film follows Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) and David Packouz (Miles Teller) who are two 20-somethings that somehow manage to become successful arms dealers. Of course this leads to all sorts of trouble and *spoiler* doesn't quite work out for them in the end.
This is not a bad film by any means, it's actually pretty competently made. My problem lies with just how unoriginal it is and how it seems to be going through an identity crisis. I knew how this film was going to end from the moment it started. Because of this predictability it almost became a bore to watch. The movie has a few moments of tension and a few bits of inspired comedy, but not enough to separate it from the pack. The problem is that the film isn't quite a full-blown comedy, nor is it a full-blown drama, so it occupies this odd space in-between the two where it has potential in both areas, but doesn't quite realize either of them.
From a cinematic stand-point, this film looks pretty great. Todd Phillips has a good eye for what makes a successful shot, how to use sets and lighting properly and what to focus on. All of that doesn't really matter though when nothing truly compelling is transpiring on screen. This was the same problem that the last two Hangover films had. Thankfully, this is a better film than those two just based upon the fact that it's not a sequel that's rehashing the same story. The problem is that this should have been better, the source material is a well of possibilities that is almost completely unrealized.
I will say that the actors do a good job here. Jonah Hill is a stand-out as the unrestrained Efraim Diveroli who has a really odd Leto-ish Joker laugh. Miles Teller plays the straight man convincingly enough and you kinda-sorta care about him I suppose. Bradley Cooper also shows up as a no-nonsense arms dealer and though he seemed to be phoning it in a bit, he was still enjoyable to watch. Despite their performances though, there were some really abrupt plot developments that had no set-up whatsoever. Certain characters would get into heated arguments completely out of the blue without showing the build-up to said argument.
The film makes good use of licensed music that is all queued at the right times, which is something Todd Phillips is always good at. However, if I hear "Fortunate Son" one more time in a film this year I might go insane. On the other side of that coin; the movie's score sounds like the dull ominous tones that permeate a crime procedural show. There are moments where the dialogue would have benefited more were it not interrupted by cheap-sounding doom-and-gloom tones. It's not a big problem, just something that started to bug me as the film progressed.
I know I'm criticizing this film a lot, but it really wasn't that bad. I mean that! War Dogs has no bad moments per se, just dull ones, lots of dull ones. For a film about two bumbling 20-something drug dealers, dull is the last thing it should have been. Though the film thinks it has an edge, I felt like it was still pulling its punches. This wraps back around to it not really registering as a comedy or a drama. It doesn't know which one it is so it's too scared to go too far in either direction. As a result of this; nothing ever really happens to anybody throughout the film. You think there are threats, but nothing really comes of them until the end. The semi-recent Oliver Stone pic Savages, while not perfect, at least had that edge I was looking for where things could go either way for our "heroes".
This film is diet Scorsese. Even lesser Scorsese is better than a lot of things out there, so if you're craving something a tad similar just with a lot less class, this is it. I like Todd Phillips, I think he has great potential as a film maker and this film continues to show that he has a knack for getting great-looking shots, he just might not have the best script to back it up. War Dogs is a decent time at the movies, just don't expect to be floored by any of the proceedings.