Movie Review: War Dogs

Two young stoners from Florida wound up being arms dealers for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars

War Dogs
(Týpci a zbraně)
Directed by Todd Phillips
With Miles Teller, Jonah Hill, Ana de Armas, Bradley Cooper, Shaun Toub

There were so many scandals with overpriced procurement during the Iraq War and Afghanistan War that the US government was eventually forced to open up contracts, including those for weapons, to bids from multiple companies. To do this, they set up a website. Most of the bidders were giant arms makers and dealers, but there were so many contracts that even small companies could pick up the crumbs. These crumb hunters were called war dogs. One small war dog company was AEY, run by two 20-something pot smokers with little more that an internet connection and two cell phones.

The film War Dogs, based on a Rolling Stone article, is a highly fictionalized account of how these two actual people wound up with a huge contract involving millions of AK-47 bullets that needed to be shipped from Albania. The film is directed by Todd Phillips, who made the Hangover films, Old School and Road Trip. He takes the same male-bonding comedy approach to this material.

The actual horror of war is kept at a distance for the most part. The absurdity of the situation, that at one point the fate of the Afghan War was in the hands of two stoners in Florida, is played up. The duo of David Packouz and Efraim Diveroli is played by Miles Teller and Jonah Hill.

The film is told from Packouz's point of view, with him being quickly sucked in over his head by the more dominant Diveroli. The film works the same way, with actor Jonah Hill, who has twice been nominated for an Oscar, stealing the show from Teller — though four-time Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper makes an impressive villain late in the film.

Packouz is the more sympathetic of the lead characters. He is basically minding his own business working as massage therapist and trying to launch business selling bed sheets to old age homes. An old friend turns up, the same person he got arrested with in high school on a drug charge. He gets involved in gun running when his wife, Iz (played by Ana de Armas) announces she is pregnant. But he is still responsible for his own decisions.

Diveroli in the end comes off as more of a sociopath, using and exploiting everyone around him even when there is no need to do so, even when it is ultimately self-destructive. He is one of those likable people because he instantly transforms into whatever people want him to be.

The film works well as a black comedy, and that is also ts main flaw. There is nothing really funny about bottom-feeding arms dealers who go to great lengths to rip off the government. The original Rolling Stone magazine article by Guy Lawson and the book it spawned called Guns and Dudes paints quite a different picture.

There is a certain level of ridiculousness to the situation of a war machine so massive that the US government has to rely on a series of dodgy companies to get all the weapons it needs. These companies have to find ways to work around various arms embargoes so the government can get armaments without directly breaking the law.

A large part of the film takes place in Albania — actually shot in Romania — with people selling off Cold War stockpiles held in rusting warehouses to the highest bidder. It should be shocking but instead it comes off as just another bizarre step in the stoners' wild ride.

The film is a good and at times insightful commentary on wars that have spun out of control and the people that benefit from that, but the material might have been much stronger if it had been played straight

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