War Dogs tells a dramatised version of the story of two arms dealers, Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) and David Packouz (Miles Teller). The core story of these two trying to selling illegal ammunition to the US military is true, and is actually a very interesting story, that does deserve to be told.
War Dogs is a film clearly trying to emulate the success of Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. If you seen Scorsese’s film then you will quickly see a lot of the same beats in the two films. Director Todd Phillips obviously takes huge inspiration from the Wolf of Wall Street, but the problem is that he’s just not Martin Scorsese. His major films to date have been over the top comedies like the Hangover Trilogy, Old School, and Due Date, rather than dramas such as War Dogs. And there were times when I think you can see Phillips’ comedy roots coming in to the film, and when that does happen it just creates a clash of tones that doesn’t work really well. He keeps this out of the film for the most part, but when it does head to more comedic ground it just that where the film was at its weakest.
I would question whether a director primarily known for making comedies was the right person to director War Dogs. It needed a director who was more experienced with dramas. As it is the film is certainly 15 or 20 minutes too long, and gets pretty dull with a number of slow scenes. Thankfully the film isn’t too boring because of Jonah Hill’s central performance. He shows once again what a fantastic actor he is with a performance that steals every scene of the film. Miles Teller does a solid job as Packouz, who is our central character and the narrator of the film, but Hill dominates the screen with the much flashier role. His performance did enough for me to enjoy the film.
I think that one problem the film may struggle to overcome is the fact that it comes at you with the pretence of having something to say about these guys in the arms business and the US government’s involvement with them. However it never really capitalises on this. These two characters are pretty unlikable guys who are just profiteering off war, and seeking to make money at all cost. Now the film doesn’t have to have a message or a viewpoint on this to be a good film, but I think in the case of War Dogs it could really have helped elevate it from a solid telling of a real life drama with a great performance, to something closer to the Wolf of Wall Street.