WAR DOGS (2016)
Directed by Todd Phillips
Best friends since junior high school, Efraim Diveroli and David Packouz are reunited after years apart and embark on a business partnership selling arms to the U.S. government during the Iraq war. The duo work their way through small arms contracts until one lands in their lap that they just cannot resist – a $300 million deal that sees them edging towards the wrong side of the law.
WAR DOGS is a crime drama that blends action and comedy into its narrative to provide one hell of a story, one that you might find hard to believe is real. Well, it is! Directed by The Hangover’s Todd Phillips, the film stars Whiplash lead Miles Teller as massage therapist turned arms dealer David Packouz and funny man Jonah Hill in a remarkable performance as enterprising Efraim Diveroli, the mastermind behind the arms deal company AEY. Reminding me a lot of Ted Demme’s film BLOW, both films are based on true stories how small time dabblers end up hitting the big time through unlawful activities that end in a disasterous way. WAR DOGS also feels stylistically similar with that vibrant, care-free attitude flowing throughout, amazing use of tunes and with a hint of comedy but not too much so that it doesn’t overshadow the seriousness and realism of the plot. This fresh style makes the characters of Efraim and David rather endearing, even when Efraim is seen gaining intel on his competitors or lying through his back teeth in order to get what he wants.
The main thing that stood out for me in this film was how two 20-somethings could have won contracts to provide the US government with ammunition in the first place. I’m not well versed in how supplies works but I naively thought the US government would just have contracts with the manufacturers and be supplied directly, cutting out the middle man. In WAR DOGS, it’s revealed that AEY searched, bid and won contracts to supply the U.S. military via a government website Fed Biz Opps. Curiously enough, after watching I hit the internet and searched for this website, and low and behold it does exist. In the movie, we see the government contracts for tanks, missiles and other high grade, expensive weapons but Efraim and David are unable to bankroll such transactions. These will be picked up by the big companies. Instead, Efraim is interested in the scraps, the crumbs, the small arms contracts that wouldn’t be worth much to multi-millionaires and billionaires but to himself and David, they’d still be quite lucrative. These ‘crumbs’ change Efraim and David’s lives. Suddenly they have enough money for expensive sports cars, suits, partying and as much drugs as they desire. When the bigger contract of supplying 100 million rounds of AK47 ammunition is up for grabs, the boys think they’ve hit the jackpot but finding that much ammunition proves to be quite a task, that is until shady Henry Girard (Bradley Cooper) comes to the rescue.
The strongest aspect of the movie, apart from the brilliant story, is the performances from Miles Teller and Jonah Hill. Teller conveys a struggling young man trying his best to make money doing jobs he despises from massaging the rich to failing to sell Egyptian cotton bedsheets to old folks homes. His luck changes when he runs into larger than life Efraim at a funeral and its from here that their business relationship blossoms. With a kid on the way, David has many responsibilities on his hand compared to single Efraim who lives for himself and prefers to party all night long. David has to find balance between his crazy life as an arms dealer and that of a loving partner and father, especially when partner Iz (Ana de Armas) is unaware of his true career choice. David narrates the movie which is mostly told from his perspective whilst Jonah Hill runs away with the energetic character of Efraim who’s peculiar laugh will have you giggling in your armchair. Hill’s Efraim is a one man machine, a guy who knows what he wants and won’t stop till he gets it. Shrewd yet outlandish, Efraim is unpredictable except when it comes to money. He wants his piece of the pie and makes sure he gets it. Some of the best scenes of the movie involve Efraim trying to buy weed and when Efraim and David decide to embark on a hazardous road trip from Jordan to Baghdad to deliver a contract of Berettas.
WAR DOGS is an unusual animal and, from the trailer, I fully expected a comedy, especially with the inclusion of Jonah Hill, but I’ve been pleasantly suprised by the actual grittiness of the movie. It packs a punch with the clever business idea being the important bind that ties the characters together but hats off to Teller and Hill for giving it that extra special touch with some solid supporting roles from Ana de Armas and Bradley Cooper to boot. WAR DOGS is one of my cinematic highlights of 2016 and is well worth a watch.