Gun­ning for suc­cess

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - WEEK IN MOVIES - Leigh Paatsch

WAR DOGS (M)

Direc­tor: Todd Phillips (The Hang­over) Star­ring: Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Ana de Ar­mas, Bradley Cooper, Kevin Pol­lak Ver­dict: What hap­pens when best friends go lit­er­ally bal­lis­tic

The smartest film of last sum­mer was The Big Short, a fac­tual farce dish­ing the dirt on how the banks stuck it to ev­ery­one dur­ing the Global Fi­nan­cial Cri­sis. It was a black com­edy with a bleak true story to tell: funny from one an­gle, sober­ing from an­other.

The smartest film of this win­ter could be War Dogs, an equally galling and amus­ing case study of what can hap­pen when big money falls into the hands of those with no con­science.

The premise of this tale is welded to a so-weird-it-has-to-be-true hook that is near im­pos­si­ble to re­sist. Less than a decade ago, two young Amer­i­cans in their early 20s stum­bled into the busi­ness op­por­tu­nity of a life­time.

Ow­ing to a strange pol­icy loop­hole in­ad­ver­tently opened by the US govern­ment, Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) and David Pack­ouz (Miles Teller) rapidly be­came king­pins in the global arms trade. From their dinky of­fice in Mi­ami, th­ese former high school bud­dies used a govern­ment web­site (not un­like an eBay for weapons) to fill de­fence con­tracts which ran into the hun­dreds of mil­lions.

Some­times Diveroli and Pack­ouz even trav­elled to highly dan­ger­ous hotspots to per­son­ally de­liver their mer­chan­dise. A truck­load of semi­au­to­mat­ics to Baghdad? No prob­lem. A mon­ster cache of Chi­nese ammo for free­dom fight­ers in Afghanistan? Can it be shipped from a ware­house in Al­ba­nia? Can’t see why not.

Of course, th­ese shonky high­jinks are fated to fin­ish badly – the at­ten­tion-grab­bing open­ing scene fast-for­wards us right to the brink of an un­happy end­ing – but not for the rea­sons most would sus­pect.

Un­der the fast and loose di­rec­tion of Todd Phillips – back in form af­ter stain­ing his rep­u­ta­tion with The Hang­over Part II and III – War Dogs dances deftly be­tween cel­e­brat­ing and cas­ti­gat­ing the adrenalised an­tics of Diveroli and Pack­ouz.

Phillips lets much of the movie ride along on the wired chem­istry shared by Hill and Teller. It is a win­ning move, not the least be­cause Hill ex­erts such a com­mand­ing pres­ence through­out (even when Bradley Cooper drifts in and out of frame in a cryp­ti­cally men­ac­ing support role).

Though he ex­cels in car­ry­ing the comic com­po­nent of the pic­ture with ease, Hill’s han­dling of Diveroli’s dark and dan­ger­ous side is first-class act­ing all the way.

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