Director Todd Phillips graduates from The Hangover and its sequels to this based-in-reality tale of two young, inexperienced arms dealers based out of Miami. Truth is often stranger than fiction, and the guys manage to land a $300-million deal with the Pentagon in a shocking example of uninhibited wartime spending. Phillips makes a smooth transition from frat-boy comedy to drama, though War Dogs still finds humor in a few hyperbolic sequences. A very large Jonah Hill gives a compelling performance as Efraim Diveroli, the brash, tan and cash-flushed founder of AEY Inc., which he uses to scoop up smaller contracts with the government that the big arms dealers usually bypass. He recruits his floundering high-school buddy, David Packouz (Miles Teller), and together the two begin funneling questionably legal arms into Baghdad.
Based on a Rolling Stone article and its author's subsequent book, War Dogs is set during the height of the second Iraq War. Packouz is a massage therapist in Miami, and he jumps at the chance to join Diveroli at AEY after his friend explains picking up small arms contracts has netted him $200,000 in the last two months. Diveroli scoops up the crumbs as a "war dog," but those crumbs are often worth millions. Packouz lies to his pregnant girlfriend Iz (Ana de Armas) about the job, and is soon taking 3 a.m. calls from generals in the field about incoming weapons. A mutual acquaintance warns Packouz to keep an eye on Diveroli, who may have screwed a family member out of $70,000. After some initial hiccups, AEY affords each man a Porsche and ritzy apartment, but the allure of a difficult $300-million deal is too much to pass up.
Phillips' film casually depicts the ridiculous, unrestrained spending at the height of the Iraq War. After one successful deal, the guys get paid in stacks of hundreds reclaimed from Saddam Hussein. War Dogs does not dig heavily into how Diveroli and Packouz are able to fulfill orders, but it does highlight several key moments for AEY. When a giant load of Berettas is tied up under an Italian embargo, they have them shipped to Jordan. Customs seizes the weapons there, forcing the pair to travel to Amman, bribe local officials, reclaim the weapons, and drive them through the "Triangle of Death" to Baghdad. They are met by disbelieving soldiers and pose, middle fingers extended, for a victory picture.
The film ticks along at a good clip for its 114-minute running time. The ultimate conflict concerns the "Afghan Deal," which involves a shady gun-runner (Bradley Cooper) and boxes and boxes of AK-47 ammunition at an Albanian warehouse. Things unravel quickly for AEY, and Diveroli begins showing his true colors. Hill gives the more memorable performance here, though Teller handles the material nicely as the film's good guy. The pair's chemistry could be better, but the relationship is mostly believable. The beautiful Armas has a thankless, underwritten part, and Packouz's domestic struggles with Iz barely register. Phillips, who joins frequent collaborators Cooper and Mark Gordon as producers, proves able to handle more straightforward material. War Dogs explores a curious, real-life subject, and offers slick, entertaining drama.
The 2.40:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image offers sparkling clarity and sharpness throughout. Shot by Lawrence Sher, who also worked on The Hangover, War Dogs features dense, gorgeous colors and exotic landscapes. Fine-object detail is strong, and wide shots are crisp and clean. This digitally shot production sports deep blacks and good shadow detail, and skin tones (even Hill's fake tan) appear natural. I did not notice any digital hiccups during the presentation.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is active and nicely balanced, with clear dialogue and good effects work. There is plenty of gunfire to pierce the surrounds, and the subwoofer supports the soundtrack and several pumping club scenes. Ambient noise, like conversations and city noise, makes good use of the sound field, and both clarity and range are excellent. English, French, Spanish and Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital mixes are included, as are English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This single-disc release arrives in an eco-case. An insert offers a code to redeem for an UltraViolet HD digital copy. In General Phillips: Boots on the Ground (8:38/HD), the actors discuss the project, and Access Granted (10:08/HD) offers a look at the film's source material. Pentagon Pie (2:49/HD) is a silly, animated version of the story.
This reality based film from Todd Phillips offers a unique story about two inexperienced arms dealers at the heart of a $300-million deal with the U.S. government. Jonah Hill and Miles Teller play the young entrepreneurs, and War Dogs is a reasonably entertaining diversion from Phillips' usual frat-boy comedies. Recommended.