War is a subject that films have taken a liking to portray as either patriotic or horrible. I haven’t seen a film that has taken a different lens and portrayed war as a business. This is precisely what War Dogs does, although the way it goes about it is much drabber than hoped for.
War Dogs is the true story of two young arms dealers; in 2005 David (Miles Teller), a college dropout working as a massage therapist in Miami, bumps into his high school friend Efraim (Jonah Hill) who is moving back to Florida to set up his own arms dealership. David, intrigued by the money (his wife also gets pregnant at a very convenient time), decides to partner up with Efraim. Soon the two become embroiled in a huge industry that might be harder to control than they thought.
The film certainly tries to send a message to the audience of the horrors of greed and the power of money. Director Todd Phillips, better known for the Hangover trilogy, helms this much more dramatic film in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way. Phillips reminded me a lot of Adam McKay when McKay made the switch to drama and a political story with The Big Short (his previous films had been Will Ferrell comedies); but Phillips’ genre transition was a bit more complicated.
War Dogs has an incredible story, which if it weren’t true, you would take the film as a parody. However, I feel that Phillips tried to do a little too much; he tried to tell the true documented story as well as the complicated relationship between Efraim and David. I think he was very successful with those first two aspects, but then he began to bite off more than he could chew, and tried to analyze David’s married life and the effects of his job on it (and I have to say Ana de Armas who plays David’s wife is weak in the role), the political implications across the Middle East and Eastern European countries, complications with a gun mogul (played by Bradley Cooper) who could easily have been cut out of the movie, an elongated Albania sequence, backlash from a US government investigation, etc. Because all these aspects were crammed in, the overall picture ends up being too superficial, so that none of the intended analysis digs deep enough.
In the end the film is a nice step towards drama from Phillips, and Teller and Hill do a very fine job (Hill put a lot of work into his character), but the composition of the film was very muddy and crowded, and it ended up losing it’s main message of greed and power, which was the primary reason this film was made.