Review of “War Dogs”

David Packouz (Miles Teller) is struggling trying to find a purpose in life. He’s a licensed massage therapist and is also trying to sell Egyptian cotton sheets to nursing homes in Miami. Neither is going very well. At a funeral he runs into childhood friend Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) who has recently moved back to Miami after living and working in California. Efraim is selling guns, ammunition and other supplies to the U.S. military, using a government website to look for small contracts on which the larger weapons manufacturers don’t bother to bid. Efraim invites David to join him in his new endeavor called AEY, Inc. after David is told by his girlfriend Iz (Ana de Armas) she’s pregnant. Quickly, Efraim and David are making deals and selling supplies to the U.S. military. They are also making huge amounts of money. A big contract providing Beretta handguns to the Iraqi police force runs into a snag when David and Efraim discover Italian law prevents the guns be shipped directly to Iraq. Efraim arranges for them to be shipped to Jordan then transported to Iraq but that deal falls through. Desperate to fulfill their contract, Efraim and David go to Jordan and hire a driver named Marlboro (Shaun Toub) to get the weapons to Baghdad and discover (when they are attacked) that they are travelling through the infamous Triangle of Death. Efraim thrives on the danger and borderline illegality of the job while David would prefer to stay out of the hot zone. The possibility of a huge military contract to resupply the Afghan military puts David and Efraim in touch with legendary arms dealer Henry Girard (Bradley Cooper) who will help them put the deal together with Cold War weapons and ammo from Albania in exchange for a cut of the profits. Girard can’t deal directly with the U.S. Government since he is on a terrorist watch list. The possibility of a huge payday lead Efraim and David to make compromises and take short cuts that could land them in prison.

The thing that makes “War Dogs” so scary is it is based on a true story. Two twenty-something bros managed to get involved in arms dealing at the perfect time. The Bush administration was fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and needed to equip millions of U.S. soldiers then needed to re-equip Iraqi and Afghan forces for the post war. The possibility of making enormous amounts of money led not just Packouz and Diveroli but many others to take short cuts in procuring weapons and supplies. “War Dogs” in some ways is like “The Big Short” in that it’s a cautionary tale that will likely be ignored the next time a major conflict breaks out involving the United States. Money has a way of making people forget past mistakes.

Jonah Hill has an amazing and somewhat scary ability to play utterly corrupt individuals with enormous style and believability. His “Wolf of Wall Street” character, while slightly less dangerous, is equally morally bankrupt to Efraim Diveroli. Hill can show us both sides of Diveroli as both the caring friend and the uncaring business partner. But as the film progresses, it becomes clear Diveroli is running a con on everyone he encounters as he tries to take people for whatever he can get out of them. His friend David is no exception. The beauty of Hill’s performance is we hope Diveroli is a decent guy when it comes ot Packouz and, for a while, we believe he is. It is only later in the film it becomes apparent Diveroli only has room in his heart for himself. Hill does an amazing job with the character.

Miles Teller is also great as David Packouz. While his character is less complex than Hill’s, Teller is able to play Packouz as a likeable guy that is looking to become something greater than what he feels he is. He also has a girlfriend and daughter to provide for and that often makes him look the other way as their business dealings get progressively shadier. Teller is the emotional anchor of the film. He is the everyman that represents the audience and gives us a way into this world. Teller’s scarred face, from a near fatal auto accident in 2007, makes us almost immediately feel empathy for his character. This is a face that has seen some hard times and taken on difficulties. While the scars have nothing to do with the character, it adds a layer of sympathy and concern and the audience cares what happens to David.

The underused supporting cast, including the always great Kevin Pollack, fills in the holes of the story quite nicely. Ana de Armas, used primarily as both David’s conscience and eye candy, is locked into a traditionally female role. The loving girlfriend and caring mother to a new baby girl, de Armas gets the dirty job of nagging her boyfriend to not lie about what he’s really doing. I suppose it’s a necessary role to keep the character rooted in the real world. Bradley Cooper is understated as international arms dealer Henry Girard. Girard is quietly dangerous and makes that clear in a scene late in the film. Cooper, who is also a producer on the film, makes the most of his brief appearances and gives the movie a villain other than Diveroli. Kevin Pollack plays a minor supporting character but is always a joy to watch. As he learns exactly the kind of business partner Diveroli is late in the film, the subtle changes in his face make a very tense scene somewhat comical.

The story in “War Dogs” is a bit dense with layer upon layer of deception and misdirection. Quite frankly, the minutiae of their business dealings get a bit tedious at times. Export licenses, government websites and trade embargoes often fill their conversations and it slows down the story quite a bit. When Efraim and David are getting their hands dirty transporting guns across Iraq or visiting a warehouse filled with Cold War weapons and munitions in Albania, the movie feels much more alive and dangerous.

“War Dogs” is rated R for language throughout, drug use and some sexual references. Drug use is very common throughout the film. Both Diveroli and Packouz are shown smoking weed and snorting powder on numerous occasions. Sexual references are scattered but explicit. Foul language is common throughout the film.

“War Dogs” is an example of how huge amounts of money corrupts everything it touches from friends to governments. It turns people into greedy, heartless monsters and governments into…greedy, heartless monsters. While many of the events of “War Dogs” were either exaggerated or invented from whole cloth, it only takes looking at the news or knowing more than one other person to show the basic idea of the film is played out every day in real life all around us. Money is a driving factor for many of our lives as we need it to procure food, shelter, transportation and, to a degree, relationships. Most of us can keep our lives in perspective with the kind of incomes average people make; however, when millions of dollars are within the grasp of someone who places personal wealth above all else, judgement and decency can be considered faults that cannot be afforded. As the old saying goes, the love of money is the root of all evil.

“War Dogs” gets four guitars out of five.

This week your entertainment options consist of dark horror, biographical athleticism and an action reboot. I’ll see at least one of the following:

Don’t Breathe—

Hands of Stone—

Mechanic: Resurrection—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

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