BY ROGER THOMAS
The new film “War Dogs” opens with some staggering statistics about the cost of war and peace. My mind was trying to wrap itself around these numbers while the plot was beginning to unfold.
Ultimately, we all probably sleep better because we are not aware of the things depicted in this film. But I have to say, the film held my attention for all 114 minutes of screen time.
“War Dogs” is a film that tells the true story of two young men in their 20s who end up getting a government contract with the United States. The contract was worth $300 million dollars.
The film does not start at the moment these young man get that contract. It starts with David Packouz (Miles Teller) who is in a job he detests. One day David runs into a friend from middle school, Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill), who offers David a job. Diveroli is a small-time weapons supplier. Together, their lives are about to get very insane.
This film reminds me somewhat of my favorite film from last year, “The Big Short.” Make no mistake, “War Dogs” is not as good a film as “Short” but the two share many traits.
First, the cast in this film is great. Teller has done good work since “The Spectacular Now.” His work in “Whiplash” and this film almost make up for his work in the “Divergent” series and “Fantastic Four.”
Hill’s character, Efraim, is a crude person and a driven salesman who almost always gets the contract. These two together work splendidly. Since there is a slim or no chance of there being a “War Dogs 2,” perhaps these actors could find another project which has lead roles for both. I liked this casting.
Another strength of the film, is that “War Dogs,” like “The Big Short,” explains things well. I obviously know nothing about the sale of arms to foreign countries, nor do I know if any of the language in the film is authentic. Regardless, I understood most of the time what was happening on the screen. I always want to be able to follow the plot, even if there are doing things I could never understand.
Ultimately, this is a rise and fall storyline. With the “Big Short” it was bankers or financiers who rose and fell. In this film, it is arms dealers, but in many ways the two are similar. In both films, the optimal words seem to be arrogant and greedy. How could two 20-somethings negotiate a $300 million dollar contract without possessing arrogance and greed?
Perhaps the moral of this true story of the “War Dogs” is the fact they did not live happily ever after. The house of cards they had worked so carefully to erect eventually collapses as did many of the relationships in their lives, including their own friendship.
“War Dogs” is not one of the best films this year, but it has its moments. The opening statistics continue to run through my mind, and each time I find it amazing. The story has great humor, tense and exciting moments and a clear narrative that leaves few behind.
And then there is the fact this film is based on a true story. I am aware that there is not absolute security anywhere, even in one’s home. However, when I see films like “War Dogs,” I find myself pondering how simple my life is.
I am glad of that. I would much rather sit in the cinema watching young arms dealers delivering their products than be living in a place on this planet where those arms will be used.
Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.