Of course most will know Todd Phillips for The Hangover or Due Date or Old School but this time around he’s taking on a story based on real events. Miles Teller and Jonah Hill play David Pacouz and Efraim Diveroli, two twenty something men who won a $300 million contract with the Pentagon, fast becoming in demand arms dealers but can they handle the heat?
Teller may be our lead but it’s definitely Hill that gets the attention, with the ridiculous laugh and almost sociopathic personality, his performance is that good that he does make you dislike him. His career has generally focused on comedies with the occasional more serious performance, Moneyball or True Story for instance, but this is something of a hybrid of the two, it’s his character who creates the laughs for the film but also that becomes more interesting and shows Hill’s talents in a flattering way. Teller on the other hand is basically playing a blend of characters that he’s done before, it’s nothing particularly new, he does well but when the film asks more of him he’s found wanting, he struggles to create an emotional connection with the family elements of the story. You could also talk about Bradley Cooper’s role as the dangerous arms dealer who finds himself on a terrorist watchlist but while the character is interesting he’s not given enough screen time to really warrant much of a discussion, it’s a good match of actor and character but honestly would be more interesting to see a separate film just about him.
The inherent problem with the film however is, to put it bluntly, it’s a film about two losers getting themselves in way over their heads, thinly disguised as a comedy which it certainly is not. The team behind the film know their audience, it’s clearly targeted at men aged 15-30 who will find humour in the moments that are not actually funny but slightly stupid and so it will work, despite its inherent genre confusion for that audience just sadly not in general. There’s a real lack of sympathy, when the two of them get into trouble it creates a reaction of simply believing its their own fault rather than worrying for the characters safety which is a shame but these aren’t inherently great characters. One positive is that it does move well, it doesn’t drag the audience along with it despite its flaws, it has a good pace to the story. The narrative style of choice, through the voice of Teller as David is problematic, it’s too obvious and been overused recently, either an outsider perspective or none at all may have serviced the film better.
Realistically the film has just given audiences two non-relatable characters with a lack of sympathy and a tendency to the idiotic, which may not inherently be an awful choice, in some ways it does still work but overall it’s simply not enough. There’s a minimal amount of comedy and a story that is hard to believe because of how these two young men ridiculously put themselves in harms way for money, which is actually nothing new.