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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Movie Review- War Dogs

I'm still wondering why the taxi driver was there? (2nd from the left)

Intro

Writer/Director Todd Phillips has had a bumpy ride when it comes to his mainstream films. He started off with a few documentaries after dropping out of film school, but those are best mentioned for his memoirs; I've got a review to write. Soon after, he met Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters) and joined his production company. His notable works are Road Trip, Old School, Starsky & Hutch (2004), School for Scoundrels, Due Date, The Hangover trilogy, and a writing credit on Borat. Now, I like most of Phillips' films for what they are, but it got to a point where there was nothing new that was coming from the guy. Everything after the first Hangover felt like the same thing rearranged to look different. There's no question that his films still make money (they do), yet I think it's safe to say that a change is needed in his approach to film making.

War Dogs

Phillips' newest film War Dogs, is his most mature direction to date, and shows what the man is capable of doing when he goes outside of his comfortable comedy box. Is this a comedy as well? Yes, but it's layered enough to show that the comedy is more darkly realistic and not just some centerpiece. The trailers may have marketed War Dogs that way, however there's more drama than 21 Jump Street (2012) style partying and pranking. Loosely based on actual events, this film heavily reminds me of 2005's Lord of War, with a slight Scarface (1983) influence. Aside from the pointlessly trite opening scene fast-forward of one of the main characters in mortal danger, narrating about how things "got to this", the film's pacing is intelligent and riveting. Even though I knew how this was probably going to end, I couldn't wait for what was going to happen next. What I really appreciated too, was that the consequences in this film are honest to how the real world works, and not just matter of factly that good or bad wins in the end. It's about who you know and how much money you've got. That's what has credence in these peoples' circles. I've noticed lately that there is some good music being played in a few films lately, and War Dogs adds to that notion. With a mixture of contrasting tracks from Leonard Cohen, Dean Martin, The Who, 50 Cent, The Beastie Boys, and others, the rhythm of the music goes with the film's visual tone.

There's a touch of action, a ton of drama, and a healthy dose of humor. At first glance, the pairing of Miles Teller (Project X 2012) and Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street) looked liked a ploy to appeal to the young party crowd, but I now know that it's just good casting. These two work well together and never miss a beat. Teller shows why he's so appealing as an actor here, because I never saw before just what he had to offer. He makes a guy who's self-justifications about profiting off of misery and greed, look like a sympathetic human being. Hill on the other hand, plays the perfect douchebag here. Take his Wolf of Wall Street character, remove the fake teeth, give him some balls, and you have the most manipulative character in recent memory. He's cool, he's methodical, and worst of all, he's funny. No wonder Teller's character gets wrapped up in Hill's coils so quickly. Those two take center stage while everyone else (with the exception of Teller's girlfriend) pops up here and there. Kevin Pollack (The Whole Nine Yards), Patrick St. Esprit (Draft Day), and Shaun Toub (Iron Man), add the realistic humor to the film, and Bradley Cooper (The Hangover) steps in for three or four scenes and props the movie up without any grandstanding, but with a collected performance that savors his moments.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, of War Dogs

The Good- The $300 trunk pop payback, the irony of Blue Oyster Cult being performed at a retirement facility, Hill's ammo test, and surviving the triangle of death.

The Bad- Teller's girlfriend drama; It's understandable at first, but then it gets to the point where enough is enough and it keeps dragging along anyways. The actress is cute (Ana de Armas, Exposed), but how many times can someone just say "no no no" before you end up packing your shit? Also, was it intentional to barely show any of Teller's friends and family? If so, it should have been explained better.

The Ugly- I've read some of the critics' reviews for this film, and I wonder where their balls are? They mostly knock War Dogs for "glorifying" war profiting and having little consequences for its characters. Well yeah! Welcome to the real world. Maybe that's why they watch movies, cause they can't handle the ugly truths outside of the cinemas? Maybe they should review PBS cartoons instead? That way they won't be so offended.

Final Thoughts

War Dogs is surprisingly good and one of the best films of this disappointing Summer season. I was thoroughly entertained the entire time. Go see this in theaters and enjoy the next level of Todd Phillips' growth as a director. I wonder what he's got in store for us next? As long as it isn't a fourth Hangover, I'm all for it.
Rating- 8.0 out of 10


War Dogs (2016)

R | 1h 54min | Comedy, Drama, War | 19 August 2016 (USA)

Based on the true story of two young men, David Packouz and Efraim Diveroli, who won a $300 million contract from the Pentagon to arm America's allies in Afghanistan.

Director: Todd Phillips
Writers: Stephen Chin (screenplay), Todd Phillips (screenplay) 

Stars: Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Steve Lantz 



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