War Dogs

HK Magazine - - FILM - Eve­lyn Lok

(USA) Bio­graph­i­cal Com­edy/Drama. Di­rected by Todd Phillips. Star­ring Jonah Hill, Miles Teller. Cat­e­gory IIB. 115 min­utes. Opened Sep 1.

What’s more Amer­i­can than sto­ries about crooks hus­tling to get rich, à la “The Wolf of Wall Street”? Sto­ries about crooks hus­tling to get rich by profiteering from guns and war. Or so we see in “War Dogs,” Todd Phillips’ film based on the true story of young’uns Efraim Diveroli and David Pack­ouz, who made their for­tunes in the mid-noughties as in­ter­na­tional arms deal­ers dur­ing the Iraq War. Equipped with the bro-hu­mor—mi­nus the de­bauch­ery—of Phillips’ “The Han­gover” but with weight­ier sub­ject-mat­ter, we’re taken on the roller­coaster ride of the duo’s no­to­ri­ous suc­cess and in­evitable come­up­pance.

Ev­ery­one loves a rags-to-riches story. Nar­rat­ing through the fourth wall, David Pack­ouz (Miles Teller) is the pro­tag­o­nist who’s down on his luck: He’s a lowly masseur liv­ing in Mi­ami Beach with his preg­nant girl­friend, serv­ing the city’s rich­est while try­ing and fail­ing to hus­tle and sell ex­pen­sive Egyp­tian cot­ton sheets to old folks’ homes. At a fam­ily fu­neral, he chances upon his child­hood buddy Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill), who in­vites him to join his busi­ness sourc­ing and sell­ing arms to the US gov­ern­ment. It turns out that in the weapons busi­ness, even the small­est cogs in the wheel can earn big coin, so David puts away the mas­sage ta­ble and straps in for what seems to be an in­nocu­ous path to mil­lion­aire sta­tus.

In dis­sect­ing some­thing as po­lit­i­cally com­plex as the ne­far­i­ous busi­ness deal­ings con­nected with the Iraq War, it’s not hard to draw com­par­isons with Adam McKay’s “The Big Short” and the way it ex­plains the fi­nan­cial cri­sis. Com­pared to other films in Phillips’ oeu­vre, this is se­ri­ous stuff: The in­tro­duc­tory les­son on gray mar­ket arms deal­ing is well paced and fun, tricked up enough with fast cuts and en­ter­tain­ing analo­gies that the week­end movie-go­ing crowd will hardly no­tice they’ve in­ad­ver­tently learned some­thing.

Jonah Hill’s packed on the pounds again for this role, and it adds to the char­ac­ter’s com­pellingly douchey at­ti­tude: Self­ish, misog­y­nis­tic and a scrooge, re­call­ing Hill’s bully act in “Su­per­bad.” It’s un­com­mon to find Hol­ly­wood celebs who can ace that on­screen an­noy­ing­ness and still earn re­spect for it. Con­versely, ever since Miles Teller cap­tured the lime­light in “Whiplash,” he seems to have been type­cast as the loser char­ac­ter try­ing to catch a break: It doesn’t feel like any­thing new from him at all.

It’s easy to pre­dict how the two even­tu­ally reach their down­fall, but half the fun is in the an­tic­i­pa­tion, and the rest is very sat­is­fy­ing to watch. And we’re left with a word of cau­tion at the end: the real Diveroli and Pack­ouz have al­ready served their time in prison, and their com­pany is set to be al­lowed to do busi­ness again in just a cou­ple more years.

So what’s more Amer­i­can than the Amer­i­can dream? Let­ting crooks back in the game—and from “The Wolf of Wall Street” to “War Dogs,” the slightly douchey Jonah Hill come­dies about it that en­sue. If you’re not averse to that, watch on.

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