Published Aug 19, 2016In August 2016, The New York Times Magazine published a story titled 'Jonah Hill is No Joke.' "He's proved himself as a dramatic actor," Molly Young wrote in the subhead. "Why isn't he taken seriously?"
War Dogs may be the first film to fully silence his detractors; the fact that it was made by The Hangover director Todd Phillips is even more remarkable.
Based on Canadian journalist Guy Lawson's story in the pages of Rolling Stone (as well as a subsequent book), War Dogs tells the remarkable true story of two 20-something friends, Efraim Diveroli (Hill) and David Packouz (Miles Teller), who, down on their luck and with limited career options, decide to get in the business of selling guns to the American government during the Iraq War. It's the perfect example of the kind of greed, excess and lack of fiscal responsibility that led to the 2008 financial collapse, and the kind of idiocy that helped it along.
Hill is absolutely magnetic as the pair's ringleader, a manipulative monster of a man who seems always two steps ahead of the government, danger and his co-conspirators, even though his drug habits and all-around obliviousness to their increasingly illegal activities (let's just say they don't acquire weapons in the most legitimate of ways) make him seem a few steps behind.
Teller, on the other hand, fully fades into the back, coming across as more of a sidekick than the film's real lead; his underwritten female love interest (played by Ana de Armas) feels like a lost opportunity for more tension in scenes where Hill isn't stealing the spotlight.
Fans of Phillips' previous frat house-friendly films (2000's Road Trip and 2003's Old School) may be surprised to learn that, despite some dark and cynically humorous moments, War Dogs is by no means a comedy. And yet his transition to more serious fare is a rather seamless one: Teller's shortcomings aside, the film has a solid storyline, the pacing is strong and a small supporting role from Bradley Cooper as disgraced American gun dealer Henry Girard helps hold everything together. The next Martin Scorsese he is not, but War Dogs hints at bigger things for all involved.