War Dogs is best in show

At the beginning of War Dogs, Miles Teller's character, David Packaouz, narrates over visuals of soldiers fighting.

Dollar signs populate the screen and he says: “What do you know about war? They'll tell you it's about patriotism, democracy... or some $hit about the other guy hating our freedom.

“But you wanna know what it's really about? What do you see? A kid from Arkansas doing his patriotic duty to defend his country?

“I see a helmet, fire-retardant gloves, body armor and an M16. I see $17,500. That's what it costs to outfit one American soldier. Over two million soldiers fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“And that's what war is really about. War is an economy. Anybody who tells you otherwise is either in it or stupid.”

Based on a true story, War Dogs tells the tale of two young men, David Packouz (Miles Teller – Whiplash, Divergent) and Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill – The Wolf of Wall Street, Get Him To The Greek) who won a $300-million contract from the Pentagon to arm Afghani allies.

David and Efraim went to middle school together, but that’s where their lives diverge. David has an unfulfilling job as a massage therapist, a loving wife and a baby on the way, Efraim uses hookers and does cocaine, fancying himself to be a modern (if pudgy) Scarface.

Afraid he won’t be able to provide for his young family, David agrees to go into business with Efraim bidding on small-arms contracts for the U.S. Army.

As Efraim says, “Everyone's fighting over the same pie and ignoring the crumbs. I live off crumbs.”

Everything goes well until they start bidding on bigger and bigger deals, eventually finding themselves smuggling a truck full of Beretta handguns through the “triangle of death” from Jordan into Baghdad.

As the deals get bigger, the stakes get higher and the lies get more elaborate that David has to tell his pacifist wife.

Scruples are at the heart of this film as David struggles to reconcile the unethical and at times dishonest things he has to do as he gets more deeply mired in the business of selling arms.

No spoilers, but everything comes to a head and the house of cards begins to fall apart as David and Efraim discover where they really stand.

War Dogs is an essentially serious film with some outstandingly funny laughs due to some great writing and Jonah Hill’s spot on delivery.

Hill plays Efraim with a gleeful frenetic energy that completely carries the film. Hill is 100 per cent committed to every moment and nuance he plays as he draws David and the audience into his twisted world.

We are repulsed by Efraim’s morals, but his enthusiasm and giddy laugh, reminiscent of Tom Hulce’s Mozart whinny, is infectious and endearing.

It’s not easy to play despicable characters who win over an audience, but he succeeds.

Miles Teller is a perfect counterpart to Hill’s Efraim; he is quiet and thoughtful where Hill is loud and impulsive and he struggles with the ethical decisions he has to make. David is the moral conscience of the film and he is simultaneously appalled and thrilled by the roller coaster ride.

Ana de Armas (TV shows in her home Cuba) is charming as David’s wife, Iz. It is unfortunate that in this completely male-dominated film, she is given so little to say and do.

She’s a beautiful young woman and plays Iz with a gentle tenderness that with more writing, could have further balanced out the movie.

Bradley Cooper is sinister as Henry Girard, an international arms dealer on a terrorist watch list who facilitates the boys’ big deal.

Cooper has the icy stare of a hit man and it’s a shame he didn’t have more to do in the film.

An unlikely group of screenwriters — Stephen Chin (virtually unknown), Todd Philips (Director) and Jason Smilovic (mostly TV series) — have written a witty script that moves the plot along at an easy pace with well-planted action.

Chock full of great dialogue, there are a lot of quotable lines that generate laughs and give pause for thought.

The basis of this movie is from a Rolling Stone article called Arms and the Dudes, which was written by Guy Lawson, who was also given a partial writing credit.

Bravo director Todd Phillips (The Hangover) for creating an intelligent and entertaining film that transcends the fluffy comedies you built your career on.

War Dogs is more than an entertaining film as it addresses not only America’s love affair with war, but the huge money at stake in keeping America at war.

It’s a film that makes you laugh and makes you think which makes it a success.

I give this film 4 out of 5 hearts.

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About the Author

Kim Foreman-Rhindress is a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City and London Western Conservatory of music for piano and voice. 

Kim has been performing in theatre and film for over 30 years in Canada, NYC, Palm Beach, Los Angeles, and the Netherlands. She has written several plays which have been produced in Canada and the U.S., and is the founder of Kelowna Voice Lab - helping people find their voice, be it singing or acting. 

A working musician, she performs regularly in Kelowna with her husband, Jim Rhindress, in an acoustic duo Smitten, and with her vintage trio Kitsch 'n Sync.  

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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