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Review: 'War Dogs' Is Fine For What It Is

By Dustin Rowles | Film | August 19, 2016 |

By Dustin Rowles | Film | August 19, 2016 |

War Dogs is a movie directed by the man behind The Hangover trilogy starring Jonah Hill at his most obnoxious and the douchy Miles Teller. Based on a true story, Hill and Teller play bro-y 20-something international arms dealers in Dick Cheney’s America who find themselves in over their head trying to fulfill a massive government contract for 100 million assault rifle bullets.

War Dogs is a good movie for what it is, but I also understand that “what it is” is not likely to appeal to most of our particular readership, which largely rejects aggressively bro-y films featuring unlikable character with seedy motivations. I get that.

On the merits, however, War Dogs is a technically proficient film. Todd Phillips, doing a deft, pseudo-impression of Scorsese, brings to light a fascinating real-life story, and Jonah Hill and Miles Teller turn in the kind of solid performances of which they are both very capable.

Hill, in particular, continues to do great character work as a “leading man,” creating an indelibly brash asshole in Efraim Diveroli, a shady Boiler Room businessman who recruits his best friend, David Packouz (Teller) into his gun-running operation.

Basically, what happens is this: Around 2005, George W. Bush opened up bidding on government contracts to everyone after being accused of corrupt dealing with the friends of Dick Cheney. Diveroli sees an opportunity to bid on the “crumbs,” the small deals otherwise ignored by large government contractors. These small deals, however, are worth a few million here and a few million there, which amounts to a lot of money to two guys operating a small company.

It was all very shady, but there was nothing illegal going on until Diveroli and Packouz bid on a $300 million ammunition contract they had no business bidding on. Winning said contract required cooking the books and working with an arms dealer by the name of Henry Girard (Bradley Cooper in a glorified cameo), who had been banned from dealing arms to America and added onto a terrorist watch list. The deal goes about as well as one might expect when the 100 million bullets are a part of a decades-old stash of substandard Chinese munitions stored in an Albanian warehouse.

It is a fascinating story, even ignoring the fictionalized trip through Iraq that Diveroli and Packouz took to deliver guns to American troops, and it says a lot about the war-obsessed Bush era that two stoners from Miami Beach could get involved in $300 million contracts to sell arms to the government. That it’s an interesting story doesn’t, however, make it an enjoyable one, and that Teller and Hill deliver strong performances do not make their characters people with whom we want to spend time. It is what it is, and what it is is a good film that I didn’t like very much.