You wouldn't necessarily expect that the guy who directed Old School and The Hangover would wind up making a really great war movie at some point in his career, but that is exactly what Todd Phillips just did. Kind of. War Dogs is a movie about the side of war that is rarely talked about, perhaps only in faint glimpses, and Phillips, with the help of a perfect duo in Miles Teller and Jonah Hill, has given us a great look at that side of things. But he didn't lose his comedic sensibility along the way.
War Dogs tells the based on a true story of two twenty something year-old friends, David Packouz (Teller) and Efraim Diveroli (Hill) who were best friends in school, but haven't seen one another in years. When they meet up at a funeral, David, who is fed up with his life as a massage therapist, becomes infatuated with Efraim, who is fulfilling small deal government weapons contracts. Efraim then offers David a job, and the two start going after bigger contracts, working their way up the chain, eventually landing a massive deal.
It is always a bit hard to know exactly how closely a movie based on real events sticks to what actually happened, but knowing that, at least to some degree, that these things actually happened makes War Dogs so very compelling. War movies are a dime a dozen though, and the reason this one is so worth seeing is because it is so insanely different. The movie never really enters a battlefield, though plenty weapons are definitely fired. This is a look behind the scenes. This is about the economy of war, as David Packouz tells it in the beginning of the movie. And told through the lense of two young guys who simply found a way to make some money, who for the most part had a 'fake it till you make it' mentality about winning over major government defense contracts, it is downright gripping.
Todd Phillips is a guy we all know as a comedy director, and a damn good one at that. He is oddly the perfect guy to tell this story. Some might question why a movie with such serious subject matter requires that sensibility, and that is fair. But the way this story is told is through the eyes of young men, making money and only seeing the good side of things. It is ridiculous. They, themselves are characters who make one another laugh and get into situations where one can't help but laugh. It is kind of funny, until it isn't. Trying to tell this story in an overly serious manner simply wouldn't work as well, and Phillips simply nailed the tone.
We are all very aware after Whiplash that Miles Teller is a star on the rise, and this is another very good showcase of his talents. His role is not flashy, he very much plays the straight man entering this insane world. But he does an outstanding job and just being a regular guy balancing the stresses of life, gun running, a girlfriend and a new baby is perhaps easier said than done. Jonah Hill, on the other hands, gets to let absolutely loose in War Dogs and delivers an excellent, hilarious and layered performance as Efraim. He is essentially Seth from Superbad, but wrapped in a cocaine haze, with insane, greedy aspirations and an incredibly eccentric style and personality. It is nothing if not entertaining, but it is a bit more than just that. The supporting cast does a fine job all around. Ana de Armas as Iz, the concerned girlfriend, Kevin Pollack as Ralph, the guy who owns a dry cleaning business who helps the guys fund their business. Also, it is a Todd Phillips movie, so Bradley Cooper shows up. All good, but Teller and Hill steal the show, and the movie is all the better off for it.
We will probably be getting war movies until Hollywood, as a business in general, is no longer profitable. But as good as many war movies are, they do tend to tread a lot of the same types of ground. War Dogs, on the other hand, is something really unique, and most importantly, incredibly captivating and entertaining. This is a fascinating, true story, and the execution of it from real life to the big screen is about as good as it gets. After a summer filled with animated movies and paint by numbers blockbusters, this may be exactly what everyone needs. From Warner Bros. Pictures, Todd Phillips' War Dogs opens in theaters on August 19.