By Dashiel Bove
War Dogs, directed by Todd Phillips (Hangover Series, Old School, Project X), tells the real life story of Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) and David Packouz (Miles Teller), two twenty two year olds who managed to secure a major Pentagon arms contract in 2007 through their contracting company AEY. The story is seen from David’s point of view, as he is inducted, participates in, and then leaves the arms dealing industry. War Dogs is not a comedy, at least not in the vein that its trailers market it as. Nonetheless, War Dogs is a film that manages to betray expectations and proves itself a solid film about the rise and fall of two men and their business.
War Dogs is a character study, and its characters are well written and acted. Efraim is money loving, violent, and ultimately shallow man who behaves like a child who’s gotten a hold of his father’s gun collection. Opposite him is David, a wimpy and rather weak-willed fellow who is trying to just get through life without getting killed. What is particularly captivating about these two men is their motivations. When we meet him, Efraim is quite settled in his ways, and David is a man unable to ever truly escape his lot in life, no matter how many bullets, rifles, and armory essentials he sells. David only joins the industry to pay the medical bills for his wife’s pregnancy. Efraim has worked in arms dealing since he was 11, and it’s become his way of life. Misadventures ensue, and it proves to be an entertaining ride.
It is unfortunate then, that War Dogs never really acts on the depth of its two stars and instead chooses to meander through their morally questionable business and the breaking of international arms law. This is a movie with excellent characters and mediocre story, and it chooses to focus on the story. Even the minor characters have a lot of untapped depth. The story is a standard underdog rising to the top and then rejecting the methods by which they do so. Bradley Cooper’s Henry Girard has a lots of deep insight into the nature of the arms industry, but the film cuts his time short, giving him only ten minutes or so of screen time.
The world we are shown in War Dogs is not glorified. The life of an arms dealer is one filled with lies, drugs, and violence. People disappear mysteriously, get killed, severely injured, or betray each other, all in the name of profit. Throughout the film, people who question the morality of arms dealing change their views when shown how much money can be earned from selling guns to the government. David’s introductory narration perfectly describes this mentality, he says that he doesn’t see soldiers, instead he sees the $17,000 it takes to equip one American soldier.
War Dogs isn’t a bad movie, as one might expect it to be from its trailers. In fact, it’s surprising with its depth and character. Yet it chooses not to give insight into the arms dealing business in depth and does not act on the interesting aspects of its characters. War Dogs is definitely a movie to rent, not to go to a theater for.