War Dogs review – Jonah Hill is repellently brilliant

This tale of twentysomething arms dealers can’t quite match its star’s tremendous performance

Jonah Hill is so repellent – all swagger, sweat and unapologetic sexism – in War Dogs, that for a while, you don’t immediately realise what a blitzkrieg of a performance he delivers. Bulked up considerably for the role, he plays Efraim Diveroli, one half of a real-life pair of twentysomething Yeshiva schoolfriends from Miami who made millions by hawking dodgy supplies to the US military. He looks like a doughnut stuffed with testosterone and reckless ambition; his hyena laugh has a combination of pleading neediness and mania that makes it chillingly effective. It’s the force of Hill’s tremendous, committed performance, plus the chemistry with costar Miles Teller (very much the straight man here as Efraim’s business partner, David Packouz) which carries a film that takes too many cliched routes to ever match the quality of its lead actor.

Director Todd Phillips (The Hangover, Old School) is an old hand at telling stories about blokes behaving badly, but with this film, which could have been the picture to elevate him from gross-out mass-market comedy to something a little more sophisticated, he drops the ball. The aim, evidently, was to combine the brash racket of American Hustle with the cynicism of Lord of War. But by copying Hustle’s voiceover narration, the blanket-bombing approach to music and the toe-tappingly obvious retro score, Phillips just looks lazy. It’s a pity, because this is a great story: a tall tale about a couple of chancers scoring billion-dollar deals and blundering through some of the most dangerous places in the world, it should have made for a propulsive, stylish thriller. Entertaining as it may be, original it certainly isn’t.

Watch the trailer for War Dogs.


Wendy Ide

The GuardianTramp

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