War Dogs: Jonah Hill Really Wants To Be Scarface

War Dogs poster

War Dogs Plot Summary:

Based on a true story set during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in the early 2000’s, David Packouz (Miles Teller) reunites with his unhinged, childhood buddy (Jonah Hill) to sell weaponry to the United States military.  As their business grows, it leads to more dangerous, on site sales, as well as illegal activity that puts both their lives in jeopardy.

As I watched War Dogs, I couldn’t help but think of The Big Short from last year.  In both cases, we have two directors primarily known for silly comedies trying to branch out into serious subject matter they clearly feel strongly about.  While Adam McKay’s The Big Short is leaps and bounds better, War Dogs isn’t too shabby.  The director in question is Todd Phillips, who you know best from Old School and The Hangover trilogy.  If you’re expecting that type of humor, you will be supremely disappointed.  It’s not that movie.  This is more in the vein of Goodfellas.  I’m not shocked Todd Phillips made this movie.  Even when you watch The Hangover Part III, which does indeed blow bags, you can tell Phillips didn’t want to make a comedy.  He wanted to make a crime movie.  War Dogs isn’t perfect, but there’s no doubt Phillips’ heart was 100% in this project.  There’s a great effort here.  It also doesn’t hurt to have two very talented actors at the helm.

War Dogs pic 1 While I’m biased because he starred in one of the best films of the last ten years, Whiplash, Miles Teller is one of Hollywood’s more underrated actors.  This guy hasn’t gotten the greatest projects since then, but even in The Divergent Series and Fantastic Four, Teller is always the bright spot.  While War Dogs is a much better written film than those others, it’s not exactly a top notch screenplay.  The character of David Packouz isn’t written with a lot of gusto, but Teller carries the film extremely well.  It’s a guy in his twenties going nowhere.  You like him.  He gets involved in some shady business, but you want to see him end up okay.  He’s perfectly juxtaposed with Jonah Hill, an actor who is on an incredible hot streak.

Jonah Hill simply kicks ass.  While the movie isn’t laugh out loud funny, Hill is usually a great source of comedic gold.  You’ve seen this character a hundred times.  He’s got a giant picture of Tony Montana in his office.  He’s wearing the shades.  He’s got the hair slicked back.  He’s a total scum bag of a character who wants to be the filthy rich gangster in the worst way.  The first scene where he gets out of control with a group of drug dealers perfectly depicts who this guy is.  While a lunatic, he’s also smart, which gives the character real layers.  As with all Tony Montana wannabes though, he takes crazy chances as he obtains more success.  Hill never ceases to amaze me as an actor.  He’s fantastic here, and adds a lot of great quirks to the character, including a trademark laugh.  Him and Teller are the perfect pairing.  It’s very reminiscent of Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin from The Social Network.

The movie is littered with good supporting players.  Bradley Cooper plays a sketchy arms dealer.  Cooper always knows how to take command of a scene.  Kevin Pollak has a nice little role, and Ana de Armas as David’s girlfriend also has a lot of chemistry with Teller.  As Teller and Hill travel to places like Baghdad and Jordan, they come across plenty of good bit players as well.  Unfortunately, many of these scenes end in a whimper.

While I don’t have a ton of complaints about this film, nothing about it blew me away.  Just as McKay had a lot to say about banks and Wall Street in The Big Short, as did Phillips about the military.  The difference is while McKay shoves it in your face with the fury of a thousand suns, Phillips is subtle, but not as entertaining.  Having said that, this is a solid first step in the non-comedy realm.  Phillips definitely has a unique style, and uses a strong soundtrack.  It could have been funnier and more impactful, but if you were scared off by the trailers (I don’t blame you), I’d give it a chance.

RATING: 7.5 OUT OF 10 (VERY GOOD)

======================================================================================================Daniel Cohen is the Film Editor for Pop-Break. Aside from reviews, Daniel does a weekly box office predictions column, and also contributes monthly Top Tens and Op-Ed’s on all things film. Daniel is a graduate of Bates College with a degree in English, and also studied Screenwriting at UCLA. He can also be read on www.movieshenanigans.com. His movie crush is Jessica Rabbit. Follow him on Twitter @dcohenwriter.

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.