REVIEW: ‘War Dogs’ Is High On Excitement, Low On Depth

If there’s anything movies based on real events have taught us, it’s that truth is stranger than fiction. Once again, this is the case with “War Dogs.”

In this film from Director Todd Phillips, Miles Teller plays David Packouz, a young man who’s trying to make a living to support his wife by way of being a massage therapist. Unfortunately, this isn’t going very well. He gets a lucky break, though, when he meets up with his friend from high school Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill), who’s become an arms dealer for the United States.

Taking place during the early stages of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Efraim is having plenty of success and he pulls David along for the ride as a business partner. As the two get deeper into the industry, though, they soon start to get a bit in over their heads.

While watching “War Dogs,” I was often reminded about other films such as “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Pain and Gain.” Like those flicks, “War Dogs” tells a tale of rags to riches to scandal and to its credit, it does this in a fairly exciting way.

As with other pictures in this genre, the story builds as the characters get deeper into the situation resulting in things getting more frantic and suspenseful. This does lead to the movie having some exciting sequences, just because of how crazy the situation they’re in becomes. An example of this is when the two lead characters have to travel into Iraq to deliver cases of weapons.

While the movie does boast some wild moments and the pacing never allows the movie to slow down, an area the picture heavily lacks is any sort of depth or introspective on the situation the characters are in. The picture does take note of some of the issues of the war and how big of an industry arms dealing was at the time, but the film never really has much to say on the subject.

There were points in the picture that the movie focused more on ‘look at the cars these guys drive’ or ‘check out how much money these guys were making’ rather than what those weapons were being used for or really examining just how desperate the military was for contracts. The movie does explain how these two young guys were able to force their way into the system, but it never had much of a commentary on why they were able to do it.

Other time in the movie that could have been dedicated to this aspect are more focused on the relationship between the two lead characters, and the deterioration of it as the film goes along. While this story between the two appeared to be somewhat generic, the characters at least were well portrayed by the performers.

Jonah Hill, who once again shows that he’s a talented headliner, manages to play his character really well. Efraim, from the movie’s perspective, is the type of person who often has a mask on to hide his true intentions and Hill manages to bring this facade to the screen convincingly.

Also good was Teller, who did a fine job in portraying the ‘everyman’ who gets caught up in a wild situation. This allows him to be the relatable person in the picture, and while the character is much more subtle than his counterpart, Teller still manages to make the Packouz have compelling moments.

A detriment when it comes to both characters, though, is just how broad of a brush they’re painted with. While Hill and Teller both play their roles really well, the fact that Hill is the antagonist and Teller is the protagonist is never hidden. It’s just done in too much of a ‘black and white’ way with very little grey.

In terms of entertainment value, “War Dogs” does work. There’s some humor in the script, it moves at a quick pace, features some solid acting and shows off an exciting scandal. However, the characters are a bit too generic at times and while the movie brings the world of arms dealing to light, it doesn’t dive too deep into it. Low 3 out of 5.

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Author: Matthew Liedke

My name is Matthew Liedke. I'm a reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer in Minnesota, but I also have a passion for the art of film. This passion led me to start writing about film in 2008. From 2008-2016 I wrote pieces at my own website, After the Movie Reviews. Then, from 2016-May 2018, my write-ups were featured on AreaVoices, a blog network run by Forum Communications Company. Today, I now write film reviews and other pieces here on Word Press. More about me: I'm a 2012 graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead where I studied journalism and film. Outside of film, I enjoy sports, video games, anime and craft beers.

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