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War Dogs (2016)

Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 11/22/2016

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 11/22/2016

In the past, I've written about how my interest in film personnel lies with those behind the camera. While actors are an integral part of movie-making, my focus remains on the writer and director of a project. A movie begins with the screenwriter process, the director molds the script into a movie, and the actors are simply tools which help to complete the process. This view does not mean that I don't have opinions on actors. There are certainly those which I like and dislike, and I will admit that I've checked out movies simply because an actor I like is involved. And, there are those that I don't like, and two who are at the top of that list are Jonah Hill and Miles Teller. (We'll explore why I don't like them momentarily.) So, you can imagine my desire to rush out and see War Dogs, a film which features these two in the lead roles.

War Dogs introduces us to David Packouz (Miles Teller), a young man who lives in Miami and works as a massage therapist. However, this barely makes ends meet and his latest get rich quick scheme (which involves selling sheets) hasn't worked. While attending a funeral, David runs into his old friend Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill). Efraim reveals that he has been dabbling in dealing arms and has returned to Miami to set up shop. David agrees to join Efraim in this venture, which involves finding small inventory needs of the United States military and fulfilling those orders. David hides this new job from his girlfriend, Iz (Ana de Armas), as he and Efraim begin to make more and more money. Following a highly successful deal involving guns in Iraq, the two decide to take on a massive order meant to arm the Afghan army. Can these two twenty-somethings meet the deadline and fulfill their dreams of being filthy rich?

In many ways, War Dogs reminded me of The Big Short. Both films feature true stories about people who found a way to manipulate the system to their advantage, doing (mostly) legal things, and who made a lot of money from their schemes. Both feature stories who are intriguing, but also scary because they are true, and because they show just how infallible the system is. Both movies were helmed by directors who had made their names making very successful comedies, but had decided to try something more serious.

But, War Dogs is simply not as good as The Big Short. Let's go ahead and address the elephant in the room and ask if it is because of the presence of Jonah Hill and Miles Teller. Much to my surprise, the answer is no. While both are still annoying here, they certainly aren't as annoying as they could have been. One thing which is working in Hill's favor is that his character is supposed to be disliked, so kudos to that casting. Efraim is obnoxious and rude, and treats people very poorly, except for when he's being nice in an attempt to manipulate them. In every role in which I've seen Teller, he's always seemed to be stuck in "smug" gear. Here, he plays things a bit more humble and down to Earth, and that helps to make his character, who is the voice of the film, more likable.

While I wasn't driven away by Hill and Teller as I thought I'd be, I never got behind David and Efraim and this is where the film stumbles. The guys in The Big Short were basically doing some pretty reprehensible things, and their success would mean that the system was truly collapsing, but, due to the fact that everyone else doubted them, the movie made us want to see them win. We don't get the same kind of reaction with War Dogs. The two main characters here are simply a jerky guy and his desperate friend who stumble upon a loophole in the system and use it to get rich. Yes, the film is exposing the ridiculous nature in which the government does its business, but watching this pair race in their new Porsches because of it isn't necessarily entertaining. Also, there's something about the idea of selling guns to the military which simply isn't all that interesting. Liberties with the real-life story have been taken to give the film more action (the real David and Efraim were never chased through the desert), but that doesn't make the story more appealing.

As Director Todd Philips states in the extra features included here, he doesn't really see War Dogs as that much of a departure from his films like Old School and The Hangover, as it's about guys getting in over their heads. This is not untrue, but the serious nature of the film is unlike anything which he's done and he handles it quite well. Despite what may have been implied above, War Dogs is not a bad film and it was much better than I had expected. Again, Hill is perfectly despicable in his role, and the fact that something like this actually happened is both interesting and disturbing. However, underneath this we have a familiar story which robs the movie of some of its bite. If you are looking for a movie in the same vein as The Big Short, War Dogs will do, but don't expect the Oscar-calibre quality of the housing market movie.

War Dogs shoots its way onto Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 2.40:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at 30 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no notable grain and no defects form the source materials. The colors look very good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The picture shows a nice amount of detail, as the picture is rarely soft, and the depth is impressive. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.2 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The action sequence delivers some nice subwoofer effects, as well as noticeable surround sound. The in-film music fills the speakers and also provides palpable bass. We also get some nice stereo effects which highlight sounds coming from off-screen.

This set also includes a 4K Ultra HD Disc where the film has been letterboxed at 2.40:1 and the Disc contains a 2160p HD transfer. This is one of the better looking live action films which I've seen in 4K, mostly because so much of the movie takes place during the day. Philips has not shied away from the pastel colors which are prominent in Miami and they look great here. The image is decidedly crisp, showing no grain and no softness to the image. This clarity renders a picture which is very vibrant and stable. The Disc contains the same audio as the Blu-ray Disc.

The War Dogs Blu-ray Disc contains only three extra features. "General Philips: Boots on the Ground" (9 minutes) is a brief making-of featurette which contains comments from Philips and the cast, and a nice amount of on-set footage. The piece quickly looks at the development of the project and then jumps into the production, most notably the location work. "Access Granted" (10 minutes) includes interviews with the real David Packouz, who serves as a jumping off point to examine the real-life story, which includes footage from the hearings that were a result of the fraud. "Pentagon Pie" (3 minutes) is a fake animated educational short which explains how the military works.

Review Copyright 2016 by Mike Long