War Dogs has its moments of funny but it also pistol-whips harsh reality to the face about the money made in the business of war.
The film is written and directed by Todd Phillips who gave us comedy gems like Old School, The Hangover trilogy, Starsky & Hutch, and more. In this film, he takes on a true story about two young men in their early 20s who somehow become big-time arms dealers.
The cast is explosive with the likes of Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, and Bradley Cooper, and the story centres around a guy named David Packouz (Miles Teller) who works as a massage therapist but struggles to make ends meet. After dropping the therapist job, David decides to try his hand at working in sales by selling linens to retirement homes, but even that becomes a financial struggle.
At a funeral, he runs into an old friend named Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) who convinces David to join his company selling a different kind of product. Diveroli is a small time arms dealer and wants his old friend to help him run his potentially lucrative business by bidding on government contracts. Wars are raging in Afghanistan and Iraq and the Bush administration is outsourcing military operations large and small by listing contracts on a website known as FedBizOpps.
After winning some smaller bids, the two pot smoking arms dealers eventually land a big $300 million contract to supply ammo to US troops in Afghanistan.
What they end up getting is a rude awakening as things start to go sideways and the two amateur “merchants of death” get caught up in some shady business dealings and eventually find themselves in hot water with the US government.
The story is based on the 2011 Rolling Stone article, “The Stoner Arms Dealers,” but the film sort of follows it as more of a guideline than an actual true portrayal. Phillips takes some creative liberties and the movie is nicely packaged and written for both Hill and Teller who look nothing like the real life Efraim Diveroli or David Packouz. But that’s okay, star power sells.
Teller is solidly understated and plays the straight man/narrator to Jonah Hill’s over the top, coke snorting sociopath with a signature laugh. Hill pretty much carries this film as we watch his character shift from likable scoundrel to a dark and paranoid cheat.
Bradley Cooper’s presence is limited and could be considered more of a cameo than a co-starring role. He plays the big time, slimy arms dealer Henry Girard who works both sides of conflicts and helps the two boys navigate their way into a big-time deal with the US government.
The film starts out fast and heavy and will at times remind you of Goodfellas and purposely at times Scarface. The story is fun, it’s fast-paced, and definitely engaging, but then the third act quickly changes in tone and goes down a darker route. I don’t mind that because it’s the reality of the story. But for whatever reason, director Phillips tacks on such a Hollywoodized and useless ending that it practically ruins the film and takes away any semblance of reality. As a colleague of mine said, they went with the full Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ending.
This is a contemporary comedy that has a fair share of laughs but I’m not sure if I was just laughing at Hill’s comedy stylings or laughing out loud at the absurdity of the true story behind it all. Maybe it’s an uncomfortable laugh due to the reminder that war is big business and as long as there is money to be made, there will never be peace when greed rules the day.
Sometimes it’s best to put the head in the sand and pretend that sad reality doesn’t go on, but there are moments in this film that slap you in the face and show you the ugly side of an economy funded by AK47 ammunition.
War Dogs is good, but it’s not great like it could have been. That said, it’s definitely worth seeing but I’d recommend watching it in the comforts of home on VOD or Netflix.
Giving this one a solid 3 out of 5. War Dogs is at a theatre near you and rated R.