Saturday, 27 August 2016

Review: War Dogs

War Dogs
Cert: 15 / 114 mins / Dir. Todd Phillips / Trailer

No film with UB40 on the soundtrack should be this much fun. I mean, it's only the briefest of audible appearances from R*d R*d W*ne, but it was enough to get my back up straight away. The rest of the soundtrack is nicely eclectic in a way which isn't trying too hard (Suicide Squad, take note), but is also largely unpredictable. And in that respect, it fits the film quite well.

The True Story*1 tale of two unlikely arms dealers sees Jonah Hill and Miles Teller playing their exaggerated roles surprisingly straight (to the credit of both), as they manage to land a legal (if morally questionable) US military weapons-supply contract, which they end up fulfilling without morals or legality. The story is narrated retrospectively by Teller's character, David, so we know that he makes it to the end. For everyone else though, all bets are off.

Without knowing anything of the facts behind the case, I enjoyed it very much. Both of the leads are inherently watchable no matter how obstreperous their characters become, and while you're never completely on their side, you'd much rather see them succeed than fail. The film feels longer than its 114 minutes, but there's little downtime in the tale of escalating danger and administrative oversight. This is also beautifully shot; there are visual nods to Tarantino's early movies, and the Miami setting (when the story is taking place in the US) is deliberately reminiscent of Scarface. Although as the film goes on, it becomes clear that rather than passing a flirtatious note under the desk, writer/director Todd Phillips has penned a flat-out love letter to De Palma's greatest creation (right down to that poster at the top of this review). Hey, I love Scarface too, so it didn't bother me.

Unfortunately, I'm not convinced that War Dogs will get the exposure or recognition it deserves, because it appears to have been marketed largely as a comedy (Hill and Teller are both great comic actors, of course, and director Todd Phillips' Hangover connection has become his default epithet). While there are certainly laugh-out-loud moments in the movie, they arise from the absurdity of situations rather than scripted gags, and it's not really the chortle-fest some audiences might be expecting. Tonally, this is closer to The Wolf Of Wall Street (also fantastically funny in places) than any of the frat pack comedies it's borrowing the principal cast from.

A colourful movie painted entirely from grey-areas, War Dogs is better than you're probably expecting it to be…

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
As mentioned above, it's rather like The Wolf Of Wall Street, with maybe just a smattering of American Hustle.

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
For the cinematography, yes.
The story can be watched at home, though

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
I think it just about does, although the film's pacing is often its own worst enemy.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Not quite, but everyone involved with War Dogs should be proud.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
I won't.

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't, but there are a few boot-shots in there.

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Well, Miles Teller was almost Han Solo but that ain't close enough, so let's go for Jonah Hill who appeared in Django Unchained, as did Sam 'Windu' Jackson.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 The words 'based on a true story' are usually a millstone around the neck of any movie, but any eyebrow-raising absurdities in War Dogs feel completely in keeping with the military and governmental organisations the lead duo are dealing with.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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