Director: Todd Philips
Starring: Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Ana de Armas, Kevin Pollak, Bradley Cooper, Patrick St. Esprit, Shaun Toub
Written by: Todd Phillips, Stephen Chin, Jason Smilovic and (based on the Rolling Stone article “Arms and the Dudes”) Guy Lawson
Running Time: 114 mins
Release date: 26th August 2016
It’s hard to believe that during the early 2000’s, the American government, in order to allow small businesses to make money in the Iraq War, would open up a free marketplace where people could bid for the rights to sells arms to the soldiers fighting and to other nations preparing them to defend themselves. This is the backbone behind War Dogs, a story based on true events in which two twenty-somethings managed to make millions out of selling arms to the United States government.
David Packouz is a masseur trying to make an honest buck going to rich men houses and massaging them while selling expensive sheets to old people’s homes. Then an old school friend returns from Los Angeles, where he has learned to buy guns from the police and sell them on. Efraim Diveroli is the polar opposite to David, ruthless, driven and a chameleon. He can be whatever people want him to be. Efraim offers David the chance of being a partner in his business, bidding on the small arms deals from a government website to supply soldiers fighting in Iraq. As the deals come in, the business grows but so do the risks, both professionally and personally.
Don’t be fooled by the publicity, announcing this is from the director of The Hangover. Although it is, it isn’t that kind of movie. In fact, it’s a much tougher, more dramatic story about two chancers taking on the US government to make money. Todd Phillips film is a far more mature and fascinating film than The Hangover series could ever be.
With the help of David’s voiceover and the story broken up by lines that would eventually appear in the film, we follow these two young men from taking on a contract to supply handguns to a captain in the middle of Iraq and having to physically deal with the political ramifications of having them flown to Georgia (an embargo on weapons from Italy to Iraq has been placed) and personally driving them through a country filled with terrorists and rebel groups out for blood, giving the guys a solid reputation.
Where the problems lie is when a contract appears to supply ammunition to Afghanistan and David strikes up a deal with the notorious dealer and a man on a terrorist list, Henry Girard. A deal that is worth $300 million dollars. Phillips plays out the whole film with terrific pace and building the tension throughout. The editing is sharp and helps to propel the work, while the script (based on an article that appeared in Rolling Stone magazine) is both solid and witty while crackling with pointed lines. It also has a first class soundtrack, where the music is used so effectively to help tell the tale. This, as I said, is a million miles away from The Hangover.
What helps give the film more depth are the two leads. Miles Teller, still fresh from his performance in the brilliant Whiplash, is perfect as the sometimes naive David, who only wants to make money to support his forthcoming family. Bradley Cooper pops up as Girard, giving a cool, calculating performance and it’s always a pleasure to have Kevin Pollak on screen, here playing a silent partner to the boy’s arms deals.
The real star of this piece is Jonah Hill, who is slowly growing into a very fine character actor. As Efraim, there is a constant air of mistrust, yet at the same time, you can understand why people are willing to go with him. As David says, he can be whoever people want him to be. With his slick-back hair, his mahogany tan and his love of Al Pacino’s Scarface, this is a man obsessed with making money to the point that he is willing to sacrifice family and friends. It’s a performance worthy of slotting him in among the greats of loveable villains like De Niro, Pesci, and even Pacino.
War Dogs is a gripping, thoroughly entertaining and unbelievably twisted version of the American Dream. Some of the details have obviously been embellished for the cinema but what shocks more than anything is how the American government, led under Bush, could allow anyone to make money from war and to become arms dealers. Nuts.