Blu-ray Review: War Dogs (2016)

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War Dogs is an entertaining hybrid of comedy, drama, and action courtesy of director Todd Phillips. Taken at face value, the film is a wild ride about two young-ish men who score a gigantic government contract to supply munitions for the Iraq War, circa 2005. The film's best asset: a pair of outstanding lead performances by Miles Teller and Jonah Hill. Though War Dogs didn't set any box office fires during its late-summer release, it's the perfect film to catch up with on home video now that it's on Blu-ray (also 4K UltraHD, standard DVD, and Digital HD) via Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.

Dogs is based loosely on a non-fiction book Arms and the Dudes by Guy Lawson (itself an expansion of Lawson's own Rolling Stone article). For whatever reasons (probably to make it more commercial), writer-director Phillips and his co-writers (Stephen Chin and Jason Smilovic) have amped up the action by inventing numerous scenarios and playing pretty loose with the details. It's always somewhat strange when filmmakers don't trust their source material, especially when it's already as incredible as the real-life story of Efraim Diveroli (Hill) and David Packouz (Teller). In retrospect, considering the lukewarm box office response, it might've been just as well to tell these guys' story more accurately and let the box office chips fall as they may. 
War Dogs Jonah Hill.jpg Still, it's an entertaining and sometimes disturbing glimpse into the world of arms dealing. Efraim is a relative small-timer in this world, with his company AEY subsisting on small contracts to supply to the Army. David, who was a high school classmate of Efraim's, is a massage therapist looking for a way to increase his earning. He joins Efraim's team, initially partnering on a handshake-based agreement alone (no prizes for anyone who guesses this will come back to haunt David), and they enter the big time with an ammunition contract worth some $300 million. They score the deal by inadvertently (and drastically) undercutting all the bigger, better-established competition. 

War Dogs Miles Teller.jpg What follows is an often uproarious comedy of errors as Efraim and David quickly realize they're in way over their heads. Or, more accurately, as David realizes. The duo travels to the Middle East to personally inspect their 100 million rounds of AK-47 ammo (which may or may actually be usable). They've cut corners in an attempt to fill their massive commitment to the Army with such such limited resources. In order to continue hiding their smoke-and-mirrors operation, they bring in the shady arms trader Henry Girard (Bradley Cooper, in a chilling, reptilian extended cameo). Henry has to resort to indirect deals due to being on a terrorist watch list, a fact that terrifies the more level-headed, conscience-driven David but doesn't seem to trouble Efraim. The more complicated (and illegal) their dealings become, the further Efraim and David's working relationship is challenged. 

War Dogs Bradley Cooper.jpg
What also becomes strained is David's personal life, including his relationship with girlfriend Iz. Though she's not given enough to do, Ana de Armas (the most beautiful woman working in Hollywood today) tries to add some heft to her role as Iz.  

War Dogs Ana de Armas.jpg Warner Bros.' Blu-ray edition offers typically solid tech presentation, with the slightly stylized digital cinematography of Lawrence Sher consistently easy on the eyes and a DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix that packs a punch during gunfire-dominated sequences. Special features include a trio of featurettes: "General Phillips: Boots on the Ground" (nine minutes), "War Dogs: Access Granted" (ten minutes), and "Pentagon Pie" (three minutes).

War Dogs offers one of those 'truth is stranger than fiction' tales that would honesty work better if it presented a bit more actual truth than it does (in this regard it brings to mind similar concerns about Tina Fey's Whiskey Tango Foxtrot). And sometimes it seems like every filmmaker, at some point in their career, insists on trying to remake Goodfellas (with this being Todd Phillips' attempt, liberally cribbing stylistically and structurally from Scorsese). But it's still a blast to watch in spite of its flaws, especially with the vivid performances by Miles Teller and Jonah Hill.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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