War Dogs is the tale of two high school friends that find a government loophole that allows them to bid on army contracts. They start off as bottom feeders and work their way up to be major players, eventually bidding on a contract to arm the entire Iraqi army. With a better director I feel this premise could have led to something great. Instead we have a film that is entertaining yes, but instantly forgettable nonetheless.
Whilst there is an array of issues within the film, the script stands out as the most blatant. Far too often the dialogue felt flat and wooden, with many of the gags missing their marks. The tone shifts so many times it seems that director Todd Phillips can’t decide on what type of film he wants to make. One moment it’s about two greedy friends out to stuff their pockets with as much of the American taxpayer’s money as possible and in the next moment it will try to persuade you that Teller’s character is only doing it to provide for his family.
This is without a doubt an incredibly messy film. Although Phillips does has a history of such films, this was generally purposeful and worked to benefit an overall enjoyment (The Hangover trilogy). He tries to follow in suit of comedy directors before him such as Adam McKay and reshape his career to work in the domain of serious pictures, but refuses to reshape his filmmaking style accordingly.
Phillips makes liberal use of other director’s trademarks, but opts to implement them bewilderingly poorly. For example the title cards with quotes lifted from the original Rolling Stone article are an astonishingly lazy form of foreboding, devoid of any creativity or individuality. With the exception of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, every song used was tacky and predictable. As if they doubted the audiences ability to connect the dots deciding instead to hold our hand, pointing out when the mood changes and we should perk up and pay attention.
What baffles me most though is that this is based on a true story, a remarkably interesting story with huge cinematic potential. One that a director with even the smallest glimmer of inspiration could turn into something respectable. Instead of keeping the real version of events as a base and building upon it, the writers chose to insert various elements that, I presume, were intended to satisfy the masses. The most excruciating of which was the inclusion of a romance subplot with Teller and Ana de Armas. Needless romance for the sake of ticking off a square in the bingo card of Hollywood filmmaking is something that I feel needs to stop.
The only saving grace was found in Miles Teller and Jonah Hill’s acting. Despite the script challenges faced they managed to salvage a mildly entertaining film. Hill in particular produced a fantastic performance, his character feels off from the first introduction and this crescendos as he becomes more unhinged. At the climax it is revealed that the only true statement he makes is that Scarface wasn’t on TV. Had the rest of the film lived up to this same high standard the result would be far more gripping
All these problems aside, if you’re looking for casual film to switch off and enjoy then this is perfect. While there is nothing innovative or original, there is enough here to hold your concentration. It’s just a shame that yet another fascinating true story has been given sub-par Hollywood treatment.