Maybe somewhat unsurprisingly ‘War Dogs’ bears more than a passing resemblance to Nicolas Cage’s ‘Lord of War’. Both films are about unlikely characters becoming arms dealers and the plot unfolds in a similar way featuring our old friends, lying, deceit and more money than you could shake an arms emabrgo at. However where ‘Lord of War’ ends with a payoff that lifts the film up from just being ‘good’ to ‘insightful’ entertainment fare, ‘War Dogs’ ends on a whimper and not a bang.
… if you enjoyed ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ then this is for you.
Throughout the film it wears its references on its sleeve and adorns them on the walls of our main characters’s offices. This is most notably done with Al Pacino’s ever-present ‘Scarface’ poster as if to tease you into guessing the film’s likely outcome. Where ‘War Dogs’ drops a beat is where it doesn’t subvert that outcome but instead colours in the numbers, leaving you slightly empty for the journey. That said, if you enjoyed ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ then this is for you. It’s shorter and similarly avoids judgement instead relying on what it feels is an obvious display of excess to make its point.
The acting on display is good with Jonah Hill delivering another solid acting turn as does Miles Teller who, whilst never touching the caustic nerve of his ‘Whiplash’ performance, is the audience’s guide into the shady world of farcical arms deals. Bradley Cooper also has a more-than-good cameo which feels like it would better belong in ‘Killing Them Softly’ but fortunately it’s here and it adds a grounding touch to all the fireworks and spiralling descent.
So, in another addition to the “some-scenes-have-fictionalised” classification of real-life stories brought to the screen ‘War Dogs’ falls short of the impact of real life. In its attempt to dramatise the absurdity of the main character’s journey it loses the kernel of what should make us care or put a chill into our viewing experience – as was so peerlessly done with Oliver Stone’s ‘Salvador’ (a comedic buddy movie which ultimately becomes a soul-wrenching journey into the dark night of America’s interventionist politics). Seek it out. This is what ‘War Dogs’ could have been and yet falls short of, instead veering from a “cinema must-see” to a “Netflix if-there’s-nothing-else-on” couple of hours.