War Dogs (2016) – Movie Review

Last night, I was scrolling through Netflix and HBO GO looking for something to watch and happened across War Dogs, a 2016 film starring Miles Teller and Jonah Hill about two friends who become arms dealers during the Iraq war in the mid to late 2000s.  I remember seeing trailers for this one and wanting to see it and when it came up on HBO GO, I had one of those “Oh yea!” moments because, even though I wanted to see it, I had completely forgotten about this film. Since I had previously wanted to see this one thinking it looked funny, or at least entertaining, and the HBO GO blurb described it as “hilarious” and “outrageously funny” so I decided to give this a go on a lazy Friday night.

As I said, War Dogs is about a couple friends, Efraim (Hill) and David (Teller) who take advantage of a government website where every military contract is listed for bidding and while Efraim and David avoid the big stuff, they become rather successful at fulfilling smaller contracts and staying under the radar. Then, after continued success with the small stuff, they do start bidding on bigger contracts, eventually landing one of the single biggest military contracts ever and run into all kinds of problems all while their friendship and David’s marriage begin to erode and fall apart.

Jonah Hill and Miles Teller both give pretty solid performances.  Hill always plays the loud, boisterous, over the top characters well and that is on full display here as Efraim is the kind of guy who runs 100 MPH through life without pausing to think about the people around him and the damage he might be causing in his wake. Efraim is also one of those people that drastically changes the persona he wears depending on who he is talking to, like a good American, Christian family man when talking with an Army Captain or portraying a mild mannered, orthodox Jew when speaking with his Jewish silent business partner, and Hill effortlessly pulls off sliding in and out of those “characters”.  As for Miles Teller, he does a fantastic job of playing the man who is along for the ride, swept up in the wake of his life long friend and drawn like a moth to flame at the idea of the money he can make by joining his friend as an arms dealer.  Teller has a natural innocence to him that really lends itself to his character.

While I enjoyed War Dogs, billing it as a comedy is somewhat misleading in my opinion and billing it as “hilarious” and “outrageously funny” is most definitely misleading.  There are several scenes and lines that I found funny but nothing in the movie made me laugh out loud the way I would expect a straight ahead comedy to. War Dogs is described as a comedy/drama but I would bill this more like drama/cautionary tale/light humor included.  The humor and things that you are supposed to laugh at are the kinds of things that you want to laugh at but you’re not sure what type of person it makes you for laughing at it. If I had to describe this as a comedy, I would have to call it a black comedy.

For me, War Dogs fits right in with The Wolf of Wall Street and The Big Short as a mostly true story of people that took advantage of a situation,  had explosive success, and eventually did themselves in. The way in which the government listed all contracts for bidding was brought about by Dick Cheney granting contracts to his prior business partners, so in an effort to give transparency and fairness to the contracting process, the government listed all their contracts on a public website for anyone and everyone to bid on.  While that sounds like a great idea, it opened the door for unscrupulous people, like Efraim and David (more Efraim than David) to take advantage of the government and taxpayers, making obscene amounts of money.  It just makes me even sadder at the state of our government, which I didn’t think was even possible.

All in all, I liked War Dogs but I didn’t love it.  Decent performances and a “based on a true story” plot don’t quite bring enough to the table to compensate for the lack of humor and a predictable plot points.  I’m glad I watched it but I’m also glad I streamed it for free rather than going to the theater.

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