War Dog: Guns and posers

War Dogs reminded me of quite a few films that were far more successful at doing what it tries to do. It begins by showing a gun pointed at one of the protagonists, David Packouz (Miles Teller), who coolly takes on narrating responsibilities and makes a comment to us about the gun’s making. “It’s a Jericho 941RS, and it costs $300.” I almost expected him to continue, “I know this because Tyler knows this.” More parallels with Fight Club emerge when you learn that the narrator is as fragile and easily influenced as the one in the Fincher film; he too needs to be ‘rescued’ by an alpha male, Efraim Diveroli (the hilarious Jonah Hill), who, at the first sign of trouble, doesn’t mind shooting his AK47 into the sky. He is every bit as manipulative and power-hungry as Tyler, and even his laugh is as deranged.

Shortly, I found myself thinking about The Wolf of Wall Street for is it possible not to, when you have Jonah Hill playing an obnoxious, money-minded character in a film that is based on a true story about corruption? Jonah, who gets taken in by the charms of DiCaprio in the Scorcese film, has graduated to playing the charmer himself, although his charms are rooted firmly in the field of hostile humour. He’s the one calling the shots, duping the government, and mouthing obscenities (oh yes, there are a lot of them) like, “F*** the taxpayer.”

Genre: Biography
Director: Todd Philips
Cast:Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Bradley Cooper
Storyline: The true story two young men who won an arms contract worth millions of dollars from the Pentagon

I’d have included The Big Short in this list too for how War Dogs is a take on a recent American scandal, but the film, despite simplifying a complex topic—arms smuggling—like the former, never really feels as serious, thanks largely due to its eagerness at making the most of Jonah Hill. The upside to doing so, however, is that there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, especially in the first half. The actor, who reportedly has put on more weight for this part, is a riot each time he’s raging, which is almost through the whole film. In one memorably hysterical scene, a job applicant asks him what his company’s name, AEY, expands to. He condescendingly answers that much like IBM, AEY is just a made-up acronym to feign seriousness. I challenge you not to laugh out loud when Jonah looks stone-faced as the applicant goes on to tell him IBM’s expansion. Interestingly though, AEY, unlike otherwise said in the film, is actually made up of the initials of Efraim and his siblings. If Jonah read this, he’d likely ask me to “get the f*** out for being a big nerd.”

Some of the best bits—or should I say, jokes—come in the first half, like when Efraim and David are forced to drive a truckload of guns into Baghdad from Jordan, through, as they later learn, ‘the triangle of death’. Efraim makes the most of this term by milking it for a thoroughly indecent joke, but hilarious nevertheless. So long as these jokes keep coming, like bullets from an AK47, you don’t realise how myopic the vision of the film is. It has no opinion on war; it isn’t concerned with exposing the US government for the procedural mistakes that allowed two twenty-somethings (Efraim and David) to bag an arms contract worth millions of dollars; it isn’t even interested in any emotional tangles (the one concerning David and his wife is solved too easily). This lack of depth gets exposed calamitously during the latter half when the film’s veil of comedy drops; even Jonah Hill fails to make it all seem engaging. This likely explains the casting of Bradley Cooper, who, I’d guess, was paying off a debt. There can be no other reason for his deciding to play the role.

Much like Pete’s Dragon that also released this week, music is a large part of what’s enjoyable aboutWar Dogs. As Efraim and David set about scamming their way through their arms deals, Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ kicks in—specifically the line, ‘We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl’ that emphasises how they are going in circles, making the same mistakes. It’s an entertaining sequence, but surprisingly deep too. The same can’t be said about the film.

This review was written for The Hindu. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to this page if you’d like to share this review.

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