Directed by Todd Phillips
Written by Stephen Chin, Todd Phillips and Jason Smilovic
Starring: Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Ana de Armas and Bradley Cooper
On January 17, 1961, Dwight D. Eisenhower, the then departing President of the United States, delivered his farewell address. In this address, Eisenhower stated, “we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military–industrial complex.” What you get with “War Dogs” is the realization of this military-industrial complex as a “Scarface”-esque gangster picture. While the gangster picture is enough of an analogy to draw to this movie, “Scarface” is the most appropriate, because “War Dogs” follows the rise and fall of its main characters and there are various homages paid to Brian De Palma’s version of “Scarface.”
For those unfamiliar the military-industrial complex is a vested interest between the US military and the defense industry, Eisenhower’s farewell address made the term a popular colloquialism. “War Dogs” chronicles the story of two young men who embody what Eisenhower feared when he gave his farewell address. The long story short version is that because of Vice President Dick Cheney’s ties to Halliburton, and the contract which was given to them, President George W. Bush starts distributing contracts to any bidder, you know the everyone gets a trophy mentality. By the way, that is the metaphor the movie uses for the scenario as well.
Todd Phillips delivers a well-made movie with a decent script, but it has more in common with gangster pictures when it should have been more like “The Big Short.” “War Dogs” starts like it is going to be like “The Big Short,” with Miles Teller via voice over telling the audience about the economy of war and it appears that this is the tone of the movie that follows. Unfortunately, this is only a prologue to the story that he is about to tell, and the movie becomes more like a gangster film. I believe that “War Dogs” should have stuck with “The Big Short”-esque tone of the prologue, that is a more enjoyable film and would better serve the commentary on the military-industrial complex.
The performances of the two leads, Teller and Jonah Hill, were fantastic. Hill has already proven himself as an actor worth his salt with a duo of Oscar-nominated performances in “Moneyball” and “The Wolf of Wall Street,” it is no surprise that he can do phenomenal work. Without a prestige release date, I do not see Hill attaining a third Oscar nod. Teller, while he proved himself as an actor with an excellent performance in “Whiplash,” needed this movie to remove the albatross called “Fantastic Four” from his neck. His performance in this movie is good, not as great as he was in “Whiplash,” but still a good solid performance. The good news for Teller is that this performance can bring him back from that “Fantastic Four” fiasco, the bad news is I do not think that this is enough to remove that albatross from his neck completely.
Overall, “War Dogs” is a good movie, well-made with strong performances. Though I do wish that Todd Phillips had stuck with “The Big Short”-esque tone that he had established in the prologue of the movie. “War Dogs” is certainly worth seeing.