“Hangover” director Todd Phillips’ amateur arms dealer morality fable is “The Big Short” for Bush’s war era
“War Dogs” kind of sneaks up on the viewer, which is a weird thing to say about a movie that stars Jonah Hill and Miles Teller as the slimiest characters of their entire careers and was directed by Todd Phillips, the guy who made the “Hangover” trilogy. Not only is “War Dogs” a surprisingly well-told tale in the classic American rags-to-riches-to-rags mode. It’s also a mordant morality fable with a genuine heart of darkness. (Plus, it has one hell of a soundtrack, matching its moods to an array of classic rock and hip-hop tunes in the Martin Scorsese vein.) The film may lure in its audience by promising a bro-tastic comedy about two ordinary dudes livin’ the dream, but under its obnoxious Porsche hood it’s got a lot more in common with“The Big Short” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “American Hustle.”
“War Dogs” takes place in the last decade, when the ill-fated wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, coupled with the piecemeal privatization of the military procurement process, produced a level of waste and corruption that was extraordinary even by Pentagon standards. But it’s not at all a stretch to view this mostly true story about a couple of middle-class washouts from Miami Beach who became international arms dealers as a tale about the creation of Donald Trump’s America and an economy of graft, greed and cynicism that hasn’t made anything useful for 35 years.
Phillips and his co-writers (Stephen Chin and Jason Smilovic) have taken some liberties with the real-life story of David Packouz (Teller) and Efraim Diveroli (Hill). But the craziest part of the movie is pretty much true. A pair of South Florida buddies in their mid-20s with no particular qualifications stumbled upon an open secret around the year 2005: The United States military would buy arms from anybody — as in literally anybody. Packouz and Diveroli made millions by bidding on various small-scale contracts that big defense firms didn’t notice or want and then filled them by buying outdated weapons equipment from Asia or Eastern Europe on the internet and shipping it to U.S. forces in the Middle East. Most of their transactions were not technically illegal, but their process definitely wasn’t ethical or efficient. It was a stupid method for supplying a stupid war.