War Dogs works because it takes no moral stand

Film Review War Dogs Miles Turner and Jonah Hill star in War Dogs, directed by Todd Phillips | Warner Bros. via AP

When there is a war, there are people making money off of it. War Dogs is the story of two young men trying to cut in and have their share of the multi-billion-dollar pie.

It is 2005, and the United States is focusing on its invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. David Packouz, a 20-something played by Miles Turner, is about to have a baby. He wonders how he can raise a family, when he makes $75 an hour as a massage therapist. Around this time, he runs into his old buddy from school, Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill), who his mother told to stay away from. Diveroli, a big fan of Scarface, is now a middleman arms dealer who works small supplier contracts for the US military.

He takes Packouz as his business partner, and the duo land a huge deal. They drive a truckload of Berettas from Jordan to the heart of the Iraqi war, Baghdad, to seal a million-dollar contract. Suddenly, Diveroli and Packouz are rolling in money. They buy new cars, new houses, open up an office, hire employees, and start working on bigger contracts.

When they hit their next gigantic deal of $300 million, Packouz tries to stop Diveroli from losing control. Bradley Cooper turns up in the middle of the madness for a while, playing a middleman to the middlemen, an elusive legend listed on the US terrorist watch list.

Director Todd Phillips deals with a serious, real-life story, based on a Rolling Stone article, Arms and the Dudes by Guy Lawson. It runs on a different track from Phillips' Hangover series, but has similar elements, including drugs and wry humour.

It starts off slow and sketchy, but gets subtly darker. It is amusing to see how easily two boys in their 20s get into the business of dealing with arms, landing military contracts (displayed publicly on the US military website) and getting filthy rich.

Miles Turner and Jonah Hill are an unlikely pair, with an awkward chemistry, which works well for the character development trajectory they go through. Hill delivers well on his portrayal of a near-psychotic businessman with a daring attitude, topped with a peculiar laugh. Turner plays a “generally lost” Packouz, who matures into a calm-headed decision maker who knows when to walk away.

The film is all guns, money and sweet-talking deals, with no room to consider ethics and morals. At one point, Bradley Cooper's character says that the thing he loves about the business of war is that there are no women in it. True to life, War Dogs has no women of significance in it. By not investing much time in an emotional romantic angle for both the lead characters, Phillips maintains the amoral tone of the film. Packouz has a partner, but she serves only as a mirror to show him the difference between a life of blissful unawareness and a world full of secret deals with characters who have no opinion of right or wrong.

Film: War Dogs

Director: Todd Phillips

Cast: Miles Teller, Jonah Hill, Bradley Cooper, Ana De Armas

Rating: 3/5

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