The new comedy War Dogs tells the true story of two cynical young men who took advantage of bureaucratic failures to become successful weapons dealers. These two men — who sold weapons to the government during the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq —ultimately secured a $300 million contract with the United States military.
The film, which was inspired by a true story, operates as both a comedy and a hard-to-imagine drama that shows how these two guys in their twenties were able to take advantage of a lax governmental policy.
In the feature’s opening moments, David Packouz (Miles Teller) notes in a voiceover that “War is an economy. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either in on it or stupid.” The film then flashes back to when the naïve David was earning a meager living as a massage therapist. At a funeral, he reunites with his former best friend Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill), a foul-mouthed wannabe gangster.
Efraim recruits David to help him sell weapons to the United States. As David notes, the government was under fire for no-bid contracts so in an effort to open up their books, they let anyone bid for possible weapons contracts. And by anyone, that meant everyone.
David and Efraim become pot-smoking business partners who take advantage of the situation. They purchase weapons from one party and then sell them to the government for much much more. That’s exactly what they did. The film depicts the characters diligently researching these contracts — which were posted online — and then bidding on them.
Director Todd Phillips, who previously helmed the Hangover trilogy, seems like a solid choice here. This film too is about men behaving badly but comes with the outlandish bonus of also being based on a true story.
Based on Guy Lawson’s Rolling Stone article Arms and the Dudes, the feature never presents its lead characters as heroes. Far from it. These characters are loud-mouthed drug-using cynics who don’t care about war and peace. They only care about money. David is presented as the more likeable of the duo but he too is hungry for a greater share of the pie. Efraim, on the other hand, is presented as a manipulative and controlling bro, who will betray his closest allies at the slightest provocation.
These friends repeatedly break the law — ignoring international laws and regulations — to make the sale.
It’s undeniably shocking that these two were able to get away with so much during the Bush administration. A lack of proper oversight let them take advantage of policies that allowed for open bidding and encouraged small businesses to bid on government contracts.
The comedy takes full advantage of the ludicrousness of this premise. There are countless times when Phillips sets up situations — involving transporting weapons across the Middle East and overcoming red tape — where a viewer can’t help but wonder one thing: how did this happen?
At times though, the feature does struggle with its concept. Is the story supposed to be taken seriously or is it just an outrageous comedy? Also, it struggles with the depiction of its main characters, especially David. It’s hard to understand how he became so blinded to Efraim’s manipulations that he lost sight of everything else. It doesn’t help that David is a husband and father and those relationships fall into the background until they become necessary roadblocks for the plot.
That being said, there’s a strong morality at the core of this story. The two leads were anti-war (especially Packouz) but they didn’t care because there was money involved. With each respective turn, they became more and more willing to lie, cheat and manipulate. The characters become less and less appealing the more we see them on screen and sadly only have to face small consequences for their actions.
As compared to the far superior Wolf of Wall Street, this feature isn’t interested in the surrounding environment that gave rise to its characters. It’s just interested in the story of these two young men and it commendably tells their outrageous tale.
In case you’re looking for something more uplifting, check out our list of 10 great movies about American patriots.