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War Dogs Movie Review

War Dogs Blu-ray + Digital HD cover art
War Dogs is now available on home video. Read our review of the Blu-ray.

War Dogs (2016) movie poster War Dogs

Theatrical Release: August 19, 2016 / Running Time: 114 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Todd Phillips / Writers: Stephen Chin, Todd Phillips, Jason Smilovic (screenplay); Guy Lawson (Rolling Stone article "Arms & the Dudes")

Cast: Jonah Hill (Efraim Diveroli), Miles Teller (David Packouz), Ana de Armas (Iz), Kevin Pollak (Ralph Slutsky), Bradley Cooper (Henry Girard), Shaun Toub (Marlboro), Alin Georgiou Popa (Packaging Guy), Patrick St. Espirit (Captain Philip Santos), Eddie Jemison (Hilldale Home Manager), JB Blanc (Bashkim), Jeremy Tardy (Kip), Dan Bilzerian (Himself), David Packouz (Singer at Hilldale Home)

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With War Dogs, Todd Phillips, the director of Old School, Due Date, and The Hangover trilogy, seems to take a recent page from the playbook of his fellow commercially proven,
technically proficient comedy filmmaker Adam McKay. McKay's latest effort, The Big Short, turned him into an Oscar winner and double nominee. Like that acclaimed film about the financial collapse, War Dogs tells a true recent story of topical relevance with plenty of flair and humor less farcical than the director's previous comedies.

Miles Teller plays our narrating protagonist, David Packouz, who as the film opens in 2005 is working as a licensed massage therapist in Miami Beach. When his wife Iz (Ana de Armas) tells him she is with child, David needs a new plan for financial security, having just blown his life savings on a bulk order of high quality bed sheets that no retirement home wants to buy.

In "War Dogs", David Packouz (Miles Teller) and Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) find themselves driving through Fallujah to deliver an arms shipment to American military in Iraq.

At a mutual friend's funeral, David reconnects with Efraim (Jonah Hill), his Scarface-loving, coke-snorting best friend from junior high. Happy to reconnect, the two twentysomething former classmates are soon going into business with one another, as Ephraim gives David a crash course on the process of the United States military handing out lucrative weapon contracts to the highest bidders on an active and public website.

Soon, David and Efraim emerge as international arms dealers, making big money by reselling guns at a profit without having to do much more than that. An order of Berettas from their native Italy creates complications, as David and Efraim have to fly to Jordan to bypass an embargo against shipping firearms from Italy to Iraq. These two undereducated men find themselves being chased in Fallujah after stopping for gas and crossing what is known as "The Triangle of Death." But they make good on their deal and that is just the tip of the iceberg.

It isn't long before David, now a father, and the increasingly bold Efraim are commanding multi-million dollar deals on a massive order for 100 million rounds of ammunition. This gig leads them to Albania via Henry Girard (a scarce but terrific Bradley Cooper), a shady businessman whose terrorist watch list status prohibits him from dealing directly with the US government. Needless to say, it too hits a few snags. The lies that David has to tell to put Iz at ease produce a strain on their marriage. Tension also forms between David and Efraim, whose business ethics begin to diverge.

The friendship of Efraim (Jonah Hill) and David (Miles Teller) gets tested by their dangerous business.

War Dogs feels a lot like The Big Short, though it doesn't have to explain nearly as many terms and concepts. It also feels like Phillips' emulation of Martin Scorsese, with certain shots and beats seemingly paying direct homage to Goodfellas and Hill's chuckly performance recalling his Oscar-nominated work on Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street (as well as multiple Joe Pesci characters).
Emulating Goodfellas is far from a surefire recipe for success, but Phillips and his less seasoned co-writers Stephen Chin (Another Day in Paradise) and Jason Smilovic (Lucky Number Slevin, TV's "My Own Worst Enemy") do succeed with a sharp, witty, and energetic new take on the American Dream by way of a Rolling Stone article.

Teller, rebounding from the already forgotten Fantastic Four fiasco, and Hill are equally compelling as the film's co-leads. Their work is complemented by a dutiful supporting cast, led by the aforementioned Cooper and Kevin Pollak, picking up his first noteworthy credit in ages as Efraim's Jewish laundromat financier. Phillips' gifts as a director were already just as plain to see as McKay's, especially on a technical level. But he reinforces them here on what is his most "dramatic" and suspenseful film to date. Mixing comedy and drama is a challenge, but one that Phillips pulls off repeatedly with grace. The film benefits from a first-rate soundtrack filled not with songs of the late Noughties but from all eras so long as they have great holding power. Image and sound are often in pleasant unison and that helps the film sustain its agreeable atmosphere for nearly two full hours.

Were it opening four months later, War Dogs would be met with higher expectations, tougher criticism and some genuine Golden Globes potential. Instead, its arrival at the end of summer makes it a nice high note on which to end the season.

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Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: Sausage Party Suicide Squad Hell or High Water Florence Foster Jenkins
Directed by Todd Phillips: The Hangover The Hangover Part II The Hangover Part III Due Date Road Trip
Jonah Hill: The Wolf of Wall Street Moneyball Superbad | Miles Teller: Divergent
Bradley Cooper: American Sniper Joy American Hustle Silver Linings Playbook Burnt
The Big Short The Nice Guys Middle Men A Hologram for the King Scarface Wall Street 99 Homes Pain & Gain

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Reviewed August 19, 2016.

Text copyright 2016 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2016 Warner Bros. Pictures, Ratpac-Dune Entertainment, Joint Effort, and Mark Gordon Company.
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