Gunning for success
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.