Brothers In Arms: War Dogs
Some see war as a conflict in which people give their lives. Others see war as a business opportunity. In the movie War Dogs, set in the mid-2000s, struggling Miami massage therapist and linen salesman David Packolz (Miles Teller) runs into his old classmate Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) at a funeral. Efraim has just launched a busuiness called AEY, which specializes in arms dealing. With mounting bills and a child on the way with his partner Iz (Ana De Armas), David accepts a job offer from Efraim, who gives his new associate a crash course in this work, which involves scouring the government's internet site to see what the US troops on the Middle East need. AEY receives financing from Ralph Slutsky (Kevin Pollak), who owns a chain of dry cleaners in Miami. With that money, AEY secures a deal to sell pistols to the troops in Iraq. They soon learn the transport process isn't as easy from going from point A to point B. Efraim wheels and deals while David assists with ensuring the military their promised delivery.
This first big success, though, doesn't help them partner with others in the field of weapons procurement. As they attend a convention in Las Vegas, the only man interested in partnering with AEY is Henry Girard (Bradley Cooper), a weapons supplier banned from dealing with the US government. He knows of a huge amount of ammunition sitting in an Albanian warehouse that he says can be used by troops in Afghanistan. After placing the lowest bid, AEY works with the Albanians to move the product to the troops. While Efraim remains in Miami, David has to deal with bigger problems, including skirting legal hassles, problems on his homefront with a disenchanted Iz, and a boss with an ego bigger than his mouth. Even the media starts to take a look at the credentials of these young entrepreneurs.
War Dogs is based on the real-life account of AEY written by Guy Lawson. The screen adaptation was co-written by Todd Phillips, who also directed. While I enjoyed this look at how AEY used the system to their gain, I also thought the movie used the excellent 2013 film The Wolf Of Wall Street as its blueprint. Not only do both feature Hill, but both films take a look at men who exploit and circumvent legality to maximize the influx of cash. The comparisons end there, though, for Philips is not the keen observer of the American underbelly that Martin Scorsese has been in works such as The Wolf Of Wall Street. Philips tries to make War Dogs a wacky series of misadventures with young men who liked to party as much as they loved to work, just as he did in The Hangover trilogy. The problem is that The Hangover films are pure fiction, and not situations with consequences in the real world. The feel-good ending of sorts is simply absurd. Phillips does show a comic flair as the two men navigate their way through difficulties by thinking - literally - on the run.
At the heart of the appeal of War Dogs are its leading actors. Hill, as Efraim, behaves very much like his character Donnie Azoff did in The Wolf Of Wall Street. The big difference is that Donnie didn't run the firm at the heart of Wolf. Efraim, just like Donnie, has a commanding presence that knows how to shut down any detractors. In one scene, he fires an employee for contradicting something he said - and the employee had the fact in dispute correct. Yet, Efraim can charm his way into getting others to work with him, though he always make sure his way matters the most. Teller turns in an even better performance as David, a guy who does his best to take care of everyone in a business he soon knows is shady. That practice came from his time as a therapist, drawing the line at customers who wanted a special kind of massage. In spite of the success at AEY, he had a hard time at home with Iz, who insisted on knowing everything. Cooper gives an effective performance as the cynical and sinister Girard, who wants no excuses for failure. Pollak as just as good as the silent partner whose silence arrives in return on his investment. The real Packouz appears as a singer in an assisted living facility.
War Dogs takes a look at the business of war, and shows a couple of enterprising young men managed to make millions by arming the armed forces. The only thing they manufactured was the bookkeeping - and it didn't raise any red flags for government accountants. The movie, while based on true events, borrows heavily from a better true event picture. War Dogs places more of an emphasis on comedy, and less of an emphasis on the price that everyone pays for the misdeeds of men interested primarily on the bottom line. AEY Incorporated, true to its initials, stood for nothing - except profit. War Dogs, as a result, is a merely satsfactory film that could have used an attitude audit before release.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give War Dogs three stars. They want to play with guns.