When I was in my early twenties, I was broke (I’m still broke), sitting at a job that bored me, eating Ramen noodles, and gloating about how much money I saved by not separating my laundry. I was not living the American Dream, but I at least had a job. I was like all American twenty-something year old’s — all except for two kids living in Miami Beach.
Based on true events that prove I should have thought outside the box instead of settling for a job at Bath and Bodyworks comes War Dogs. This movie follows two friends: David Packouz (Jonah Hill) and Efraim Diveroli (Miles Teller) who are in their early 20s and living in Miami Beach during the 2003 Iraq War. These two exploited a little-known government initiative that allows smaller businesses to bid on US Military contracts.
Starting small, they begin raking in the cash and live the life rap stars preach about. But like all good things involving greed and self-centeredness, the pair gets in over their heads when they land a 300 million dollar deal to arm the Afghan military — a deal that connects them with shady people, not the least of which turns out to be the US Government.
It might have been one of the biggest hustles ever… and it could only happen in America.
It all started during the George W. Bush administration when huge, no-bid contracts to supply the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were being awarded to conglomerates like Halliburton, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin. As criticism of the perceived cronyism and war-profiteering grew, the government decided to level the playing field with FedBizOpps, which opened the bidding on military contracts to… well… virtually anyone. Unfortunately, there were just enough loopholes to make it possible to take advantage of the system, like our two friends.
War Dogs is director Todd Phillips’ first true story, which is based on the tale chronicled in a 2011 Rolling Stone article entitled “Arms and Dudes” by Guy Lawson. Feeling very similar to his comedy The Hangover without the neverending jokes, War Dogs shows Philips growing as a director. Phillips brings a finesse that we haven’t seen before. He balances between naturally hilarious moments (like an all-out battle for gas in Fallujah aka the Triangle of Death) and strong dramatic scenes. He is able to bring out the best in his actors. Unlike other comedies such as Dirty Grandpa, nothing feels forced which helps the audience to stay in the moment.
Visually, War Dogs is a large feat even for Phillips. It’s a movie that showcases every technique, ploy and stylistic invention since his first film. However instead of everything becoming a complete mess, he’s able to blend the styles without any hiccups. Thanks to cinematographer Lawrence Sher, this makes for a rather gorgeous production.
When we meet Efraim and David, they don’t appear to be the international arms dealer types. These are just two guys who had been best friends in junior high, but lost touch (as most people do). Hill steps into the role as a leader, where nothing seems impossible. Taking David under his wing as a big brother of sorts, he’s extreme, gaudy and explosive. However, he’s also lonely — something that is hidden behind all his superficiality.
Hill manages to effortlessly play a character who is a chameleon; incredibly charming when he needs to be, with amorousness drive and intelligence to maneuver through any obstacles. He is also completely untrustworthy which is great for a story that has any many carefully executed plot twists. This is one of Hill’s best works, for it shows his versatility in one role.
Teller (as David) finds himself caught up in the world of financial freedom. Ever hesitant, he is more of the conscience of the operation; the complete opposite of Efraim. Selling bed sheets, he’s struggling to make ends meet when Efraim shows up. We see this downtrodden character who is barely hanging on to his sanity transform into an energized, excited man who is finally able to provide for his pregnant girlfriend. However, the more money he makes and the more he allows himself to be happy, we see him becoming the kind of person the real David would hate. This facade he puts up to protect those around him creates an inner conflict.
War Dogs is also full of supporting characters who all help create rather serious consequences and add depth to the story. Ana de Armas as David’s significant other avoids becoming the stereotypical whiny girlfriend. Instead, she actually supports her boyfriend despite being kept in the dark. Where female characters tend to be placed to the side in comedies, de Armas goes toes to-to-toe with the banter and jokes which makes the chemistry between her and Teller feel authentic.
Bradley Cooper, as Henry Girard, is a complicated villain that is not onscreen much but he is memorable as the guy who’s been on both sides of every conflict. Henry is definitely not somebody you would ever want to cross in any shape or form. He is an amalgamation of different people.
In the end, War Dogs is simply fun. Laughing at and with the ignorance of the protagonists; it makes for a great way to escape the summer heat. Despite knowing exactly how it’ll end, Philips makes the journey fun even during the paper thin ending where everything falls apart both in the script and their operation. This film plays more as a “we need money” love letter and less of a political commentary (which probably explains why it wasn’t released during award season).
War Dogs is not perfect, but so few comedies ever are. However, fans of Phillips will not be disappointed in this R-rated fun-fest while non-fans will have a positive lasting impression of this summer of movie.
War Dogs will release in theaters on August 19th. Check out our coverage of the movie’s press conference.