Movie reviews: War Dogs, The Purge: Election Year, Strange Occurrences in A Small Irish Village

War Dogs 3/5
The Purge: Election Year 2/5
Strange Occurrences in A Small Irish Village 4/5

Miami dudes Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) and David Packouz (Miles Teller) are War Dogs (15A), civilian entrepreneurs who sell arms to the American military. 

Flying by the seat of their pants, the duo somehow blag their way into a $300m contract to supply America’s allies in Afghanistan, which is when their troubles begin … Based on a true story, War Dogs has all the makings of a classic caper: Diveroli and Packouz are dope-smoking frat-boys who find themselves way out of their depth in the most dangerous game of all. 

As directed by Todd Phillips, however, the story develops along the conventional lines of the rags-to-riches triumph of the brash underdog, as Efraim and David disregard the rules and cut corners on their way to unimagined riches.

It’s a rich seam to mine, as Wolf of Wall Street recently proved, although the multiple references here to Brian De Palma’s Scarface are ill-advised: Hill and Teller are nowhere as charismatic or demented as Al Pacino’s Tony Montana, and Hill’s clumsy portrayal of Diveroli renders him an irritatingly crass boor rather than a compelling psychopath. 

That said, the globe-trotting tale (Miami to Baghdad, Las Vegas to Albania) offers moments of surreal humour as the hapless pair negotiate a perilous route through the shark-infested waters of the international arms trade, with Teller persuasive in the role of naive fall-guy Packouz and Ana de Armas providing strong support as his long-suffering wife Iz. 

Rich in potential for comic satire, War Dogs is solid rather than spectacular, offering a lot of bark but very little bite.

The Purge: Election Year (16s) is set in a futuristic America, where every year, for one night only, all crimes are permitted on Purge Night so that the population can ‘purge and purify’ itself of its violent tendencies. 

Running on an anti-Purge ticket, presidential candidate Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) is targeted for death on Purge Night by the ruling party, the NFFA. Defended by her security consultant Leo (Frank Grillo) and a rag-tag band of anti-Purge citizens, Roan must survive the anarchy in order to bring civilisation back to America. 

The original movie in the franchise offered a fascinating metaphor for the toleration of violence in society, but this latest offering — written and directed by The Purge veteran James DeMonaco — is a rather tired rehash of what was once fresh, innovative and shocking. 

The violence is deliberately characterised as luridly overblown theatre (one character lasciviously describes Purge Night as ‘Halloween for adults’), but the depiction of the chaos is so cartoonish (vengeful teenage girls lay siege to a deli store waving gold-plated Kalashnikovs) that it’s difficult to differentiate between intentional black comedy and ludicrous posturing. 

Meanwhile, the movie’s internal logic becomes increasingly confusing, as the ‘bad’ violence of both the chaotic revellers and would-be assassins is countered by the ‘good’ (and equally brutal) violence of the anti-Purge brigade. 

Frank Grillo puts in a solid shift as the dedicated security specialist, and Mykelti Williamson provides moments of much-needed light humour as deli shop owner Joe Dixon but, for the most part, The Purge: Election Year is a classic case of the law of diminishing returns.

Strange Occurrences in A Small Irish Village (G) is a documentary about Knock, the tiny Mayo village renowned as the site of the supernatural appearance of the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph and Saint John the Evangelist in 1879, and is now Ireland’s national Marian Shrine. 

Written by Rachel Lysaght and directed by Aoife Kelleher (One Million Dubliners), the documentary doesn’t pretend to forensically examine the miraculous claims. 

Instead, through straight-to-camera interviews with locals, it offers a multi-faceted exploration of Knock and its people, most of whom are fully convinced that Knock was the setting, as parish priest Fr Richard Gibbons puts it, for ‘something transcendent, something metaphysical’.

Fr Gibbons, the main interviewee, proves a likeable presence, a charming blend of deep spiritual faith and a pragmatic awareness of Knock’s (and the Catholic Church’s) place in the modern world, especially in the wake of what are obliquely referred to as ‘the scandals’. 

Others are less sound when it comes to matters theological, particularly the man who asserts that the Catholic Church is ‘the true religion because we have the miracles to prove it,’; meanwhile, Kelleher’s roving camera is sharply observant when it comes to picking up on the crasser offerings in Knock’s shops, such as light-up crucifixes or the Happy Death Cross. 

This fascinating film, full of surprising and occasionally delightful contradictions, is a brilliant evocation of this unique Irish village.


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