Friday, September 16, 2016

Movie Review: WAR DOGS

War Dogs recounts the true story of David Packouz (Miles Teller) and Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) and of their society for arms trading, AEY, through the years from 2005 to 2009. From the foundation of it, right through every step that brought them to becoming a multi-million dollar contract arms dealer.

Having been sadly underwhelmed in the past years by every feature Todd Philips has put out, I was going into this one not really expecting the surprise I got. This is a fabulous storytelling effort, which, as all great true-story films do, puts the focus on the characters and uses its setting to enhance a film that moves along at a restless pace and with a drive that I was riveted by as much as I was surprised by it.

When putting together these kinds of true story films it is very easy to fail from the start by having a murky idea on what is the focal point of your feature. Many movies loose themselves in social and political commentary, others forget completely to give a narrative pulse and worst of all, many of these focus all of their attention on pulling heartstrings solely through the real-events element, which quickly becomes a gimmick.

War Dogs does none of this, it is a clear vision about these two guys. The story is theirs and it moves forwards with every scene, never being interrupted by out of place moral commentary or in your face explanations of who’s right. There is no judgemental approach given to what could very easily descend into blatant accusation. The character empathy you have is really remarkable and even when I thought the film was occasionally tripping I was proven wrong by some genuine revelations and changes in the character dynamic.

What this excellent screenplay does is never, not even for a moment, loose you in what is a gargantuan mass of information you have to digest. I can confidently say I could explain everything that went down in the film and the understanding the filmmakers manage to give you to what is going on is all thanks to brilliant storytelling. Firstly, the plot weave is frantic yet crisply ordered which, combined with the fabulous narrative drive, injected scene after scene making for a riveting experience. You are carried through many small stories which each, other than having a brilliant structure in it of themselves, have an incremental amount of importance as the film goes on. Thanks to this, the tension in the film just keeps building and building and even I, who did not know anything about the true story, could sense this ominous feeling that something was going to go down. The stakes always increase and with them the closeness to which you get to come with these characters.

Jonah Hill and Miles Teller have great chemistry, but even more than that, they stand out on their own. Jonah Hill is once again proving he is one of the great actors of our time and has still loads to do, he is performing again as a guy who basically is an asshole, but once again he succeeds in not making this person a flat, annoying brat, but a complex and dangerous human being. Miles Teller has the less showy role here, but he shines just as much, giving the audience and the film a beating heart to follow. Ana de Armas is another highlight of the film and manages to give life to her character on the screen where many others would have probably given a flat presence.

Of the few things that can be taken a part from War Dogs I just have to say that it does have just a couple of little inconsistencies that jarred me for the moment they were on screen. Furthermore, I have to admit that as much as I loved the chapter division it had, I could have done with just a little more style. The editing is quite incredible and the laid-back photography serves the story incredibly well in giving it that open and unapologetic quirk, but I can’t help but feel that visually the film did not leave a big imprint on me, using many traditional and occasionally derivative (Godfather II ending) techniques where there could have been the space to design a visual grammar uniquely for the content.

I found War Dogs to be a fabulous character piece on a great backdrop of story and setting, with thoughtful directing, of which many choices I could have not agreed with on a first, quick thought, but the more I think about such and the more I appreciate the craft behind them.

James's Score: 8/10 

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