War Dogs plays itself in the trailer as a comedy. With Jonah Hill and Miles Teller as the lead characters, you would expect this to play out as a comedy. Except it doesn’t. It’s dark. It’s surreal. It’s exhilarating. Yes, it has its comic moments. Those moments are intertwined with dark humour and sinister backdrops that make war less appealing than it already is. From the director that brought us The Hangover trilogy, this film comes as a surprise, not only because it’s based on a true story but because it has a sense that it’s trying to ‘say something’.
Throughout the viewing of this film, I kept making comparisons to Lord of War starring Nicolas Cage, the war film sponsored by Amnesty International. The comparisons are clear. There are two characters (Miles Teller and Jonah Hill) who become ever-more entrenched in the world of arms dealing. Miles Teller has a partner who doesn’t know (initially) about his involvement in international arms trades. There is a deal that goes wrong. All of these scenes play out in the same way that they played out in Lord of War. The difference? This film forces you to make your own judgements.
Jonah Hill is superb playing as Efraim Diveroli, a twenty-something arms dealer who moves up in the world of international arms trading faster than seems reasonable or possible. His character trait, a short, high-pitched laugh, is a fantastic device for the film and made the audiences laugh each time he did it, even when the laugh was disguising something terrible. Miles Teller has always done well playing innocence and naivety and this is no different in his role as David Packouz, failing at life and discovering something that he’s good at, without quite realising the consequences or repercussions of his actions.
In fact, the casting is on point. Bradley Cooper playing the role of the elusive and mysterious Henry Gerrard is magnificent and Ana de Armas playing as Miles Teller’s partner, Iz, is attention to detail that the director didn’t need but included. This film would have worked as a comedy. The two principal leads have enough experience and skill in the genre to be able to make a dark story into a comically stupid set of circumstances. Instead, the director goes for something more bold and ambitious.
He makes an actual film. At times, it feels like The Wolf of Wall Street, at others it feels like Lord of War, sometimes it feels like a film of its own. That’s the beauty of this film. It takes the best moments of those films and blends them into a cinematic cocktail of its own making. War Dogs might not end up being my film of the year but it is definitely one of the top five films I have seen so far.