WARNING: The following review contains spoilers, I’m telling you now so you don’t pretend to be outraged later.
I said, war, huh
Good God, y’all
What is it good for?
Say it again!
If I write any more lyrics, I might owe Edwin Starr some money. Speaking of money, that is what this story is about, money…and war…I guess I could have used either word there. The United States Government has spent trillions on war since…well forever. America and war go together like Pancakes and Maple Syrup. But wars don’t arm themselves; someone has to deliver the goods to our armed forces. Body Armor, Helmets, Camo, Communications, Guns, Ammunition. War is a supply and demand market but we never hear about the suppliers. Who are the people that give the weapons of war to our armies? That would be the War Dogs; they are the people who profit from war without stepping foot on a battlefield. During the early stages of the Iraq War, The Bush administration allowed anyone to bid on military contracts that would provide the US with arms. Major conglomerates were able to trade with the government but it also allowed idiots like Efraim Diveroli and David Packouz to scam their way to millions and that leads us to our story.
War Dogs is based on the real-life story of Efraim Diveroli and David Packouz, two 20 something kids who became a couple of America’s most notorious gunrunners for all the wrong reasons. They are portrayed in the film by Miles Tiller and Jonah Hill. We begin with David (Teller) living in South Florida, he spends his days massaging rich guys for double minimum wage and he can’t even afford a pizza for him and his girlfriend. After a friend of the family dies, David is reunited with an old childhood friend Efraim (Hill), who runs a business named AEY Inc. Efraim purchases low-level weapons contracts from the government. The pair decides that they could use each other help, so they team up to earn a big weapons deals online. After they score a massive 3 Million dollar contract, they decide to aim high and go after a $300 million dollar weapons contract even if it means they have to fraud the US Military.
I have to admit the first hour of this film was pretty tough to sit through. War Dogs is advertised as a War comedy, the problem is the movie isn’t very funny. I can’t help but feel that Todd Phillips was the wrong choice of director for this project. Phillips who has done such films like the Hangover series and Old School tries to set the tone similar to what Michael Bay did with Pain and Gain. However, when you feel that Michael Bay would have done a better job with this film, you know you have problems. War Dogs feels more like a ‘Seth Rogen comedy’ with Jonah Hill in the lead. Needless to say, I wasn’t very impressed. Hill plays the unlikable vulgar douche whose looks almost as bad as his personality is. When Efraim is on screen he is doing coke, smoking weed, talking about fucking hookers, or doing the worst fake laugh I’ve ever heard in my life. If the point of his character was to make me hate his guts, then mission accomplished. The first act is pretty bad and when Dan Bilzerian (yeah that guy) showed up for a cameo, I audibly groaned and was ready to give up on the film.
However, the saving grace for me was Miles Teller, shocking I know. Now I may be in the minority here but Teller’s character of David is what keeps War Dogs from being an episode of Entourage with guns. David is seemingly the only person with any sense of morals but he constantly makes a series of bad decisions. David spent his entire life savings on buying bed sheets in bulk without any real plan to sell them. Add in the fact he recently knocked up his girlfriend and you can see why he is desperate for money. Given his series of unfortunate events, you understand why a shady character like Efraim can come into his life and promise him more money in a week than he can make in a lifetime.
When the film shifts its focus on the details of the story, that’s where we begin to gain steam. AEY Inc. secures a 3 million dollar contract to send guns to Iraq, but the guns get held up in Jordan. They need to get them to Baghdad or else their business will fall in the toilet. They fly to Jordan and decide to drive the guns into Baghdad themselves as if you needed to be told, this was a bad idea. After a close call with Terrorists, they deliver the guns to the Army and become hits in the gun running business. David stumbles across a massive cash contract that will net them seven figures, however, the massive order is more than they can fulfill by themselves. So they seek the help of famed arms dealer Henry Girard played by Bradley Cooper. Henry, who is certainly a dangerous terrorist, has the equipment to fulfill a 1 million round of ammo order, the catch? The ammo is old and it comes from China, which has a trade embargo with the US. But the geniuses at AEY decide they will just repackage the ammo and pretend no crimes are being committed, this decision becomes their downfall.
David’s morality begins to eat away at him. He has a war-hating girlfriend who he constantly keeps secrets from, he knows that what he’s doing is illegal, not to mention people close to him are coming up missing. David and Efraim are supposed to have a serious friendship that bonds them together but the film doesn’t do a good job in showing it. Betrayal becomes the biggest arc in the final act but it feels like the only person surprised by it was David. Looking at Efraim for more than 3 seconds and you know he is as shady as Dick Dastardly. Efraim’s evil ways it what does them both in due to his refusal to pay the people in Albania who are in charge of repackaging his bullets. Both men are arrested where Efraim is sentenced to 4 years in prison and David gets 7 months house arrest.
With ‘based on true story’ films you always wonder what is fact and what is Hollywood bullshit. Based on the facts, the third act of this film is what closely resembles what actually happened. Many of the events in the movie are fabricated. The boys driving their guns into Fallujah, the existence of David’s girlfriend, and David being kidnapped in Albania never happened. There is even a third person involved in the day to day operations of AEY Inc. who was completely written out of the film. They also gloss over aspects of the story that involve the deaths of potential whistleblowers and the forced labor of their illegal repackaging project. I assume this was done in order to preserve a light hearted tone with dark material. If the point of this film was to make people outraged at war, I don’t think this will tip anyone’s opinions. They make the point to blame George Bush and Dick Cheney for the wars in the Middle East but it wasn’t like many people were giving them a pass, to begin with.
The most frustrating thing about War Dogs is that I can see the potential for a good film but it is just not in the right hands creatively. The decision to make this film a comedy instead of a drama was a bad one, especially trying to make it a Hangover film. For a movie that is only two hours long, the subplots and over detailing of the story makes it feel twice as long as it is. Philips doesn’t succeed in making a satire of war or a raunchy comedy. Miles Tiller does his best to humanize the film but it only works when the tone is serious and they focus on the story. Jonah Hill screen presence is better he’s not trying to be funny and he does a great job getting heel heat and being unlikable like the film needs. War Dogs tells enough of a story to be a halfway decent popcorn film but doesn’t have the direction or narrative to make it any more than that.
OFFICIAL RATING: **
Don’t Forget to Like and Subscribe to Facebook and Twitter For Updates.