People often say that money is the root of all evil. False. The love of money is the root of all evil. I actually enjoy the tales of the wealthy, if for nothing more than the aspirational motivation I get from seeing a world I normally couldn’t witness. Whether it’s Wall Street or The Big Short, tales of the perils of wealth and excess fascinate me, and I love the story of a good “come up.” When I saw the trailer for War Dogs, which was inspired by true events, I was instantly hooked and wanted to learn how these upstarts cornered the market on international arms dealing.
Miles Teller (Fantastic Four) and Jonah Hill (Sausage Party) star as best friends David Packouz and Efraim Diveroli. The year is roughly 2006, and David is disenchanted with life. He can’t hold a steady job and is eking out a living as a masseuse. When he reconnects with Efraim, his old friend hasn’t changed a bit. He’s as obnoxious as ever, but seems to be doing well for himself. He started out buying seized illegal firearms from law enforcement and reselling them online. He’s moved on to small government contracts, selling weapons and ammunition to the U.S. government. One would think the world’s greatest military wouldn’t need to resort to buying small amounts of weaponry from individual gun purveyors, but blame the cronyism of the Bush Administration. Amidst allegations of nepotism against Dick Cheyney, Congress introduced legislation requiring the government to entertain offers from small companies. War is big business, and Efraim is cashing in.
He offers David a role in his company, and the pair embarks on a new course beset by dangerous greed. They attack the gun-running business with tenacious fervor, undeterred in the pursuit of lucrative government contracts. Efraim doesn’t mind playing fast and loose with the law if it keeps the money flowing, and David acquiesces. When trade legislation threatens a deal to export beretta handguns from Italy to the Middle East, the “war dogs” drive the guns through hostile territory themselves. Hill is superb as the brash, rotund Diveroli, delivering a performance reminiscent of his role in The Wolf of Wall Street. Efraim is the loveable asshole, and Hill infused his interpretation with quirks that made the character feel real.
Teller is serviceable as Packouz, though not as impressive as his co-star. I find his performances somewhat uneven, but his work in films such as Whiplash evinces great ability. Darker characters tend to be more nuanced and complex, and so Jonah Hill had more to work with, in many respects. His character’s duplicity allowed for a more layered performance, compared to Teller’s. Nevertheless, both actors had an abundance of chemistry and played to each other’s strengths. Director Todd Phillips (The Hangover) is a master at capturing the fraternal dynamic between friends, and that ability is on display here. You can’t help but root for David and Efraim, yet that feeling is tempered by the clear white male American privilege from which they both benefitted, all while nearly running afoul of the law. War Dogs was insightful and entertaining, due in large part to an entertaining, compelling story and an anchoring turn from Jonah Hill. Grade: A-