War Dogs

 

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Jonah Hill and Miles Teller play real-life twentysomething potheads who win a $300 million contract to arm the military in Afghanistan.

 

War Dogs
Arms and the men: Jonah Hill and Miles Teller 

  

War is not about religion, land or the moral high ground. War is about money. In the words of David Packouz, “War is an economy – anyone who tells you otherwise is either in on it or stupid.” And the film War Dogs is not about warmongering – it’s about chutzpah. Based on Guy Lawson’s article Arms and the Dudes published in Rolling Stone magazine, Todd Phillips’ stylish, gripping drama details the upward spiral of Packouz (Miles Teller) and his school friend Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) as they toy with the US government’s munitions contracts.

 

Packouz was on $75 an hour massaging the flesh of the rich in a Miami Beach parlour and six months later was earning more money than he could imagine supplying the U.S. military with guns and bullets. Back then – in 2005 – the Pentagon posted their contracts on-line and all it took was a keen eye and a lot of trawling to bid on a contract, preferably undercutting the big guys like Northrop Grumman, Lockheed or BAE Systems. Blind eyes were systematically averted, so long as the Bush administration had enough ammunition to fight their wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. So, through sheer temerity, Diveroli and Packouz found themselves brokering a deal worth $300 million to arm the Afghan army.

 

Here, as Diveroli, Jonah Hill is playing the flipside of the character he essayed in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. He is the engine of the film: the brash, ugly American who gives the US a bad name overseas, but a man who can make things happen. He is also an unpredictable and dangerous friend. Miles Teller is the wide-eyed accomplice who needs the money to provide his trusting girlfriend (Ana de Armas) with the security to complete her pregnancy. He is the heart of the movie.

 

The co-writer-producer-director Todd Phillips is best known for his raucous comedies Road Trip, Due Date and The Hangover trilogy, and it would be fair to expect a black comedy in the vein of M*A*S*H or Catch-22, but he plays it absolutely straight. And there is more than a whiff of Scorsese about the film, with its expansive style, larger-than-life showdowns, fine-tuned performances and muscular soundtrack of terrific songs (Pink Floyd, Aerosmith, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Who, Leonard Cohen). The fictionalised scenes in Iraq are also particularly well handled and suspenseful, while Hill gives the best performance of his career as a character to fear and marvel at. Teller (Whiplash) is always good value, while Todd Phillips’ Hangover associate and co-producer Bradley Cooper adds a nice note of menace as a rival arms dealer. And however doctored the true story might be, the fact remains that two twentysomething potheads pulled off a scam of staggering proportions.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Ana de Armas, Bradley Cooper, Kevin Pollak, J. B. Blanc, Eddie Jemison, David Packouz (the old folks' singer).

 

Dir Todd Phillips, Pro Mark Gordon, Todd Phillips and Bradley Cooper, Screenplay Stephen Chin, Todd Phillips and Jason Smilovic, Ph Lawrence Sher, Pro Des Bill Brzeski, Ed Jeff Groth, Music Cliff Martinez, Costumes Michael Kaplan.

 

Joint Effort/The Mark Gordon Company-Warner Brothers.

114 mins. USA. 2016. Rel: 26 August 2016. Cert. 15.