So, it’s almost the weekend again! That means you’ll finally have more time on your hands to go to the cinema and catch up on the new releases. Today’s film review is War Dogs (Todd Philipps, 2016, USA).
Based on a true story, War Dogs starts off on the banal 22-year-old lost in life cliché, demonstrating Packouz’s financially-unsuccessful life, working as a masseuse for old rich men in the neighbourhood. When his long-lost childhood friend, Efraim, gets back in town however, he decides to join him aboard the money-making international arm-dealing wagon. As the film takes place during Bush’s presidency and the Iraqi War, the two find themselves having a lot of potential and success ahead of them. David Packouz, played by Milles Teller, and Efraim Diveroli, played by Jonah Hill, become international arms dealers for the military. As Packouz claims, they become: “Bottom feeders who make money from war without ever stepping foot on the battlefield”.
One usually comes out of a film thinking about how the picture they had just seen made them feel, and to be honest, War Dogs didn’t leave me with much. There are horrible films, then there are great films, War Dogs happens to just fall in between.
In terms of comedy, there were obviously a few scenes where David and Efraim were trapped in horrendous situations which managed to make the audience laugh. I’d say specifically the sequence where they were travelling all the way from Jordan to Iraq to smuggle ammunition with Marlboro who’s, according to a 10 year-old Jordanian, “The greatest smuggler in Jordan”.
Packouz: ‘Hey, seriously, is this safe? Driving to Baghdad?’
Marlboro: ‘Yes, very safe…50-50’
Although the film was mainly marketed as a comedy, the comedic tone besides that was hardly held throughout the story; scarcely were there any laughs in the theatre. The film’s comedic tone relied mainly on Efraim’s peculiar laugh which he scatters several times in the film, specifically when it’s uncalled for. But, by repeating it quite often, the weird-laugh ends up actually triggering laughter in the audience. Unfortunately, however, the film decided to throw the basic old: “I screwed your mom” joke a few times, which was entirely redundant and narratively inessential. There’s only so many mom-sex jokes a generation can take.
The film’s formal structure, however, is quite interesting. The film was narrated by David’s voice-over as a means to identify and feel more for our protagonist. His voice explained the things that the visuals already demonstrated, so I couldn’t help but wonder if his voice-over was really necessary at all. As a whole, War Dogs is definitely quite self-conscious of its own cinematic medium (theatrically speaking, they indirectly break the 4th-wall). For one, Phillips continuously uses freeze-frames in different parts of the story where David’s voice takes over, explicitly telling the audience that they’re being told a story that’s already happened. Furthermore, the film is divided in chapters, which vaguely reminds me of Kill Bill‘s structural format although the latter wasn’t chronological. On top of that, there are constant references to Scarface, making the film even more reflective of the cinematic medium. Besides the Al-Pacino gun-shooting poster that’s shown more than once on Efraim’s wall, the film directly imitates that scene in Scarface later on in the film, right after they had landed the Afghan deal.
I did enjoy however that Scarface gun shooting scene, which was perfectly and inadequately accompanied by classical music. That audio-visual dissonance is again repeated with an overview shot of the warehouse full of ammunition, while opera classical singing invades the frame. This audio-visual discord somehow reminds me of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey where amidst the technological rough spaceships floating in space, The Blue Danube plays very peacefully. The classical art of machinery.
Obviously, seeing the success of the Hangover, which Todd Philipps had directed as well, Bradley Cooper had to feature in this film too. Although he plays the small role of a terrorist wanted man, he’s still quite badass.
Runtime: 1h 54min
Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama