A growing number of films are easy to group together as post-2010 examinations of the American Dream in practice. They’ve achieved extraordinary results with examples like The Wolf of Wall St, The Bling Ring, The Big Short and Spring Breakers, and average results with Pain & Gain.
War Dogs hits on the same sweet spot, hits it well, but frustratingly teases a greatness it never quite achieves.
It’s a tale about the outrageous immorality of modern capitalism and one young man’s struggle to come to terms with his role in it. It’s at times giddily exciting, with filmmaker Todd Phillips tapping directly into the dark side of the American psyche, but then patchy storytelling and poor decisions let it down.
The near-relentless soundtrack finds a Scorsese-esque rhythm at times with brilliant uses of Pink Floyd, 50 Cent and Justice, but also suffers cringey, supremely obvious cuts from Aerosmith and Creedence Clearwater Revival, among others. There are plenty of examples of dialogue that are annoyingly obvious, too; characters needlessly spell things out as if Phillips isn’t confident the audience is smart enough to understand the film language he uses, which is indeed fairly basic. The Scarface references get so heavy-handed Jonah Hill might as well have been screaming “say hello to my little friend!”
It’s a shame, as I for one really dig Phillips’ illicit, debauched style of storytelling and War Dogs was an ideal project to apply it to after he got trapped in The Hangover trilogy. Perhaps it’s a lack of fine-tuning that means the end result is part-comedy that’s never quite funny enough, and part-meaningful true story that’s never quite meaningful enough. It’s still a fun ride for the most part and a shocking insight into some of the War on Terror’s dirty details, but this could have easily been so much more.
‘War Dogs’ Movie Times
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