Certificate 15, 114 minutes
Director: Todd Phillips
Stars: Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Steve Lantz
War Dogs is very, very loosely based on a true story first covered in a Rolling Stone article and later a book, Arms and the Dudes, by Guy Lawson. It opens on January 1st, 2008, in Albania. A car is driven to what looks like some deserted Soviet-era housing and a couple of masked men get out. They drag a man, David Packouz (Miles Teller, Fantastic Four, Insurgent, The Divergent Series: Allegiant), out of the boot of the car and knock him around a bit whilst talking to him in Albanian, which he doesn't understand. Then a third, mostly unseen man, points a gun at Packouz's head and speaks to him in English. At this point, Packouz starts narrating, beginning with the accurate identification of the gun in question, down to how much it would cost on the black market. Not the most normal reaction in this situation. There follow a number of clips in which the narration covers the cost of each soldier's equipment in Afghanistan, which is what Packouz sees when they are fighting, and saying that war is basically about money, no matter what it might be dressed up in, and anyone who says otherwise is either lying or an idiot.
Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:War_Dogs_2016_poster.jpgThen it goes back to 2005 in Miami Beach. At this point, David is working as a massage therapist for $75 per hour, massaging wealthy older men. Which becomes what is effectively a running joke through the film. David has plans, though; he intends to sell high quality bed linens wholesale to all the retirement homes in south Florida. Unfortunately, none of the homes are buying, and he blew all his money on buying them, and the entire venture falls apart.
At a funeral, he sees his former best friend from childhood, Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill). Efraim had been sent away to Los Angeles to live with his uncle, at least in part it seems to keep him away from David (Efraim is not exactly liked or trusted by many people), but now he's returned. Efraim was working for his uncle, and they were selling seized firearms on the internet. He was making money at it, and has a habit of carrying automatic weapons in the boot of his car, but now Efraim has gone into supplying the U.S. military with weapons.
The Pentagon was made to open up the entire market to all companies, allowing smaller U.S. operations to get a chance to bid. Efraim is only selling the small stuff, the crumbs off the table as he says, as the bigger defence contractors still keep the larger contracts, as they are the people equipped to handle them. This still means that there are hundreds of thousands of dollars in play. When David's girlfriend Iz (Ana de Armas) announces that she is pregnant, David wonders how he's going to be able to support his child on his current income. At which point Efraim asks him to become a partner at his company, AEF, as he was looking for one that he could trust.
David thinks about it, because he's against the war and his girlfriend definitely is. Efraim says that he's against the war too, but he is for making money. So David goes into partnership, and lies to his girlfriend. Quickly, David is making a significantly larger amount of money than he was before. Then AEF lands a much bigger deal, supplying Berettas to the Iraqi police, in an order made by the U.S. Army. Things do not go to plan with this. Although it's the biggest single deal to date, at several hundred thousand dollars, if they fail to deliver they can forget about ever dealing with the military again. Which eventually requires that they go to Iraq themselves to ensure that the guns get through, breaking several laws in the process and putting their lives at risk, as they don't head through a particularly safe part of the country.
Success breeds a desire for more success, and to get bigger contracts with more money at stake, and much more money to be made. When a really big contract comes up, the pair make the personal acquaintance of Henry Girard (Bradley Cooper), a big arms dealer who is also apparently on the terrorist watch list. A fact that doesn't concern Efraim at all, but which David finds rather more troubling. Efraim's desire to get the better of everyone - by screwing them, where necessary, and usually even if it isn't - even if such is counterproductive and actively dangerous - eventually puts the entire operation at risk - risks mostly taken by David.
The film is narrated by Teller's character, and focuses around him, but it's really Jonah Hill's character who is the star. Hill may be most known for his comedic roles, but it looks like he's been trying to escape from that sort of typecasting before it's too late - and it's working. Efraim is the one who really steals the show. He's got no morals, is a social chameleon who becomes the person that the other wishes to see. He's dangerous, albeit not physically, really only out for himself, and with his slicked back and oiled hair and extensive bling manages to look really dodgy. The overall impression is of someone who is an utter sociopath. AEY's actions are often illegal, sometimes outright fraudulent, and Efraim is always looking at how to get around inconvenient little laws that make selling guns more difficult.
War Dogs is essentially divided into various chapters, with a quote from that chapter shown at the beginning of it. This does on occasion make the story feel a bit fragmented, as one episode changes to the next with an abrupt change. The actual David Packouz has a cameo in the film very early on, playing the guitar in the retirement home that the character is trying to sell bed linen too. This is, as mentioned, an extremely fictionalised version of the actual events, and the viewer can get the impression that it would have been better to make the entire story fictional.
There are some funny bits, such as when Iz is discussing the fact that David is selling arms to the U.S. government, when she thought he was selling bed linen, and he tells her that he did say he was selling other stuff. To which she responds that she though he meant pillows - a rather more logical assumption than military-grade weapons. How the weapons are sold - which would appear to have a lot of truth on it - is rather disturbing to say the least. This disturbing theme is dressed up in a lighter treatment of some nasty real world events. However, something just seems a little lacking. Teller's performance is okay, but it's Hill's that actually makes the film worth watching - he has truly evolved past a simple crude comedic actor. War Dogs is an okay film, but could have been better, and given how well Hill did with what he got, with an outstanding script he could have been really impressive.