War Dogs Review

War Dogs (2016) Movie Review by Kevan McLaughlin

Director: Todd Phillips
Writers: Stephen Chin (screenplay), Todd Phillips (screenplay)
Stars: Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Steve Lantz

War Dogs is the incredible real life story of Efrain Diveroli and David Packouz who were supplying arms and ammunition to the US military by the time they were 19 and 23, respectively. It’s perhaps more astonishing that the film, with it’s very serious subject-matter, can actually live up to its description as a comedy/drama. This is Wall Street in the Bush administration.

The Goodfellas of gun-running.

David Packouz (Miles Teller) is in a cycle of mediocrity and failure. He’s a struggling entrepreneur and working as a masseuse when he meets his old friend Efrain (Jonah Hill) at a funeral. They reminisce about their exploits at school, getting into schemes and scrapes while high off their asses.

David learns that since they last saw each other Efrain has been doing very well supplying the military with equipment  in low-end contracts that none of the big arms dealers would concern themselves with. They’re squabbling over the pie and he feed “on the crumbs.” Efrain is savvy, fast talking and ambitious and David is in awe of him.

When David’s girlfriend Iz (Ana de Armas) tells him she’s pregnant he panics.

Efrain offers him a job but David has misgivings because of his and Iz’s stance against the war in Iraq. Efrain charms David into morally tap dancing his way around his beliefs, reasoning that someone will get rich out of this and it may as well be him. But he lies to Iz, telling her that one of his previous schemes has finally paid off and he’s secured a deal supplying linen to the army. In the middle fo all this is Kevin Pollack who plays Ralph, a devout Jew who believed it’s his responsibility to protect America and Israel by financially backing Efrain in his exploits with the military.

The boys enjoy success until David makes a mistake. Unaware of an Italian embargo on the sale of weapons to Iraq, David can’t fulfil his order for the Iraqi police, under the watchful eye of the US army. David and Efrain then smuggle the guns, unbeknownst to them, through the Triangle of Death.

They’re gaining a reputation for getting a job done when they land a $300 million contract for supplying AK-47 ammunition to the military. This is what has become to be known as the Afghan Deal.

They’re approached by the shady Henry Girard (Bradley Cooper), a legend amongst arms dealers, who can supply the ammunition to them and when Efrain enquires why he isn’t doing this deal directly the boys learn that Girard is on a government terrorist watch list. Unperturbed, David and Efrain continue with the deal leading them to Albania where stockpiles of unused guns have ammunition have been sitting in warehouses since the Cold War, waiting on unscrupulous middle-men to make arms deals.

There is, however, a huge concern. Girard hasn’t let the boys know that the ammunition is Chinese, and since America has an embargo against China any potential deal with the US government would be illegal. Efrain has an idea to re-package the bullets using a local Albanian box company. He tells the Albanians it’s necessary to re-package the ammunition because the old containers are too heavy.

Efrain’s increasingly erratic mood swings jeopardise the deal. His drug use has escalated and he’s become dangerous and paranoid. He tells David he intends to shut Girard out of the deal by buying the bullets directly from the Albanian government. When David snaps at his friend’s insanely dangerous plan Efrain retaliates by informing Girard that the opposite is true – that David is the one who intends to betray Girard.

Everything finally unravels when David and Efrain finally fall out with the latter refusing to give his friend one penny from the deal. Furthermore, the FBI arrest both David and Efrain for fraud as it’s came to the attention of the government that the boys knew about the bullets being Chinese and that they deliberately tried to conceal this. It’s revealed that it was the owner of the box factory who tipped off the US government in retaliation for not being paid.

Jonah Hill’s performance is both hilarious and disturbing. Efrain is morally ambiguous and a social chameleon.

He will say anything to get what he wants. To Ralph he acts like the staunch Jew to curry his favour, to an army general in Baghdad a devout Christian to buy more time on a gun deal. Hill has already shown his potential for brilliance in The Wolf of Wall Street  and furthers his reputation as more than a comedy performer by his portrayal of Diveroli in War Dogs.

Miles Teller’s character is, ultimately, likeable. He lies to his girlfriend about his job and the danger he’s in but it’s a sympathetic performance by Teller. He narrates throughout the film, always telling you his perspective and winning you over with reason.

Todd Phillips has not-so-much departed radically from Old School and the Hangover trilogy as incorporated his comedic background into a pretty bleak and tense set of circumstances.

It’s no mean feat, but it doesn’t exactly pay off. Scarface is oft-quoted throughout War Dogs and, with a darker tone, this film could have potentially tapped into that claustrophobic and paranoid feel. Still, it’s a very enjoyable movie with a killer soundtrack and memorable performances.

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