War Dogs


Reviewed by: Jane Fae

War Dogs
"So while War Dogs includes elements of comedy, reviews describing it as “hilarious”, or pigeon-holing it as such are misleading."

Looking for a jolly subversive romp through the post-Iraq arms trade, with added sex, drugs and a rock and roll soundtrack? War Dogs could be the film for you...

It tells how two affable Jewish lads, Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) and David Packouz (Miles Teller) almost accidentally graduate from Miami stoners to international arms dealers. Perhaps “graduate” is too strong a word, since despite moving up in the world, buying sharp suits, performance cars and modern apartments, their penchant for dealing, in a drug-induced haze, remains constant throughout.

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The catalyst for this bizarre transition? A decision by the Pentagon that, since relying on a few large arms dealers led inevitably to corrupt practices and rip-off, they would throw the bidding process open to all and sundry.

What could possibly go wrong?

Well, pretty much what did, as anyone with half an ounce of nous might have anticipated: guys like Diveroli and Packouz spotted the opportunity to make a quick buck and what followed is pretty much historical record. Or more accurately, self-serving autobiography and court record.

According to Packouz, they were: “'War dogs' bottom feeders who make money off of war without ever stepping foot on the battlefield.

“It was meant to be derogatory. But we kinda liked it.”

The film begins with Packouz failing spectacularly. A masseur tending to the needs of elderly male clients – and fending off their advances along the way – he sees opportunity in selling high quality cotton sheets to care homes. Not a good move since, as one home owner brutally explains, no one, least of all his residents, is likely to complain about sub-standard sheets.

The result? A lounge stacked high with boxes of unbought sheets, and Packouz on the verge of financial disaster. Enter childhood chum, Diveroli, needing help delivering micro-deals for the US army in Iraq.

Packouz jumps at the opportunity. Micro-deals rapidly turn mini, then major as the duo, trading as AEY Inc, land a contract worth $300 million to re-equip the Afghan army.

This proves to be their undoing. They have over-reached themselves, are now in bed with some very dodgy types, including the Albanian Mafia, and when it all collapses, Packouz is lucky to escape with his life. And if the Mafia doesn't do for him, his anti-war wife (Ana de Armas) probably will, as she is none too pleased to find husband David has been lying to her about his business.

According to the production notes, War Dogs director, Todd Phillips also directed the Hangover trilogy. That may not be clever reference. The tone and subject matter of War Dogs is very different from that of Hangover. It is an approximate cross between Lord Of War (also, allegedly based on real life) and The Big Short, which provided an inside track view on the financial meltdown of 2008.

A sort of “arms trade 101”.

So while War Dogs includes elements of comedy, reviews describing it as “hilarious”, or pigeon-holing it as such are misleading. It is also good solid drama and, as far as can tell, relatively accurate insight into the disaster that was US defence procurement in the mid-noughties.

At least, it is likely accurate on the big issues. For the real life Diveroli and Packouz were eventually arrested by the FBI and much of their doings made public through the legal proceedings that followed.

It is almost certainly less accurate on the small detail and probably, too, the dramatic structure in which this tale has been wrapped. A tense journey, in a lorry, smuggling a consignment of Berettas through Iraq's “triangle of death” appears to belong to the real-life experience not of our drug-fuelled arms dealers, but that of screenwriter Stephen Chin.

A narrative that juxtaposes Diveroli, the consummate liar, to Packouz, the well-meaning dupe is dramatically neat, but may owe more to the fact that the source of much of the narrative is Packouz himself. Self-serving? Who knows, except perhaps he and Diveroli. Although, the real Packouz does make a brief cameo appearance as a singer in the care home at the start of the film.

Back in real life, there is no love lost between the principal actors. Ralph Merrill, who invested his life savings in AEY, is suing Diveroli for $5 million, his role is reprised in the film in the part of Ralph Slutsky (Kevin Pollak). Packouz is said to be planning to sue Diveroli.

And Diveroli is suing nine parties (including director Todd Phillips) involved with War Dogs on a range of charges including misappropriation of his likeness rights.

One can see why, his film portrayal is a master class in sociopathy, depicting Diveroli as a liar, a monster utterly devoid in empathy, up there with Gordon Gecko or Doctor Strangelove. All of which makes for great drama – but less fun if you are the person being maligned.

A good solid film, in a different category entirely from Hangover - four stars.

Reviewed on: 16 Aug 2016
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Based on a true story of two Florida friends who make a fortune as gun runners for the Americans in Afghanistan before the wheels come off.
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Director: Todd Phillips

Writer: Stephen Chin, Todd Phillips, Jason Smilovic, based on an article by Guy Lawson

Starring: Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Bradley Cooper, Kevin Pollak, Ana de Armas, Patrick St Esprit, Julian Sergi, J B Blanc, Gabriel Spahiui, Shaun Toub

Year: 2016

Runtime: 114 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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