Review: War Dogs (2016)

Buddy comedy meets true crime in Todd Phillips flick.

by Katia Kutsenko

War Dogs is not an innovative movie, nor a first of its kind. It is not the first time we see a film aiming to unite both the dramatic, the comic and the emotional vectors. The comic part is perhaps the best, well-covered by Hangover trilogy (2009-2013) director Todd Phillips, whose filmography also includes Old School (2003) and Due Date (2010). The real appeal of the movie, however, lies with the main characters, with the incredibly realistic and excessive Jonah Hill and the authentic “good guy” Miles Teller.

David Packouz (Teller) is a massage therapist who lives in Miami with his girlfriend, soon to be father. His life changes completely when his old friend Efraim Deveroli (Hill) comes back into his life. The guy David always looked up to offers him a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: join him in the arms dealing business. Nothing illegal about it, at least at the beginning, which is why David gives it a try, hoping to give himself and his family a better future.

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It is only after a while when the work becomes full-time and the legality of it fades along a shady line that David starts to come to his senses and realize, as if pieces of a puzzle finally coming together, that that life is not what he wanted.

The real story the movie tries to translate, based on a Rolling Stone article, is one talking about everyday struggles. About work, about the legitimacy of work, and about how hard it is to succeed without forgetting how real the world beneath our feet is. While Efraim lives every day with a concept of “here and now”, David never changes. He follows Efraim’s lead in the beginning, tries to better his life, but in the end he is always true to himself and his beliefs.

The surreal yet real story, which is probably one of the aspects which makes this movie so intense, develops naturally. The frames are wide, showing the amplitude of the world the “war dogs” see and experience. America, Albania, Iraq, all of these countries are described with a proficiency of colors. When they say that “devil is in the details” this is probably what they mean: the beautiful locations, interesting photography and the authentic yet modern music.

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None of these details, however, obscure the beautiful performances by the lead actors. Miles Teller – whose test bed was Whiplash’s (2014) Andrew Neiman– is the perfect antithesis to Jonah Hill. He gives all himself into this real, troubled yet honest character. Teller’s David fights, both with the outside world and his inner self, proving in the end that no matter how far you can deviate from the main road, if you truly want to, you will eventually find the right way home.

More troubled but yet majestic are the performances by Jonah Hill and Bradley Cooper, whose intense acting brings definitely some pluses to the entire movie. Cooper, even we see him very little, gets the best of our attention. Hill, on the other hand, impersonates Efraim with such passion to make it impossible to separate the person and the real-existing criminal.

War Dogs is a movie with a lot of interesting and dynamic ideas, even if most of them are already explored and not all of them best shown. The cast is perfect, the music well-placed and the scenery realistic. As all great movies inspired by true events can be slow at times but the general picture works and it’s a pleasant surprise overall.


KatiaKatia Kutsenko / Writer (Cherkassy, Ukraine – 1992) Raised in Italy, Katia graduated from Politecnico di Milano. Architecture is her profession, movies and TV shows are her guilty pleasure. She loves period dramas more than anything and never misses the last Marvel movie. She travels a lot and enjoys photography, when she’s not busy writing her opinions for Telefilm Central.

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