“War is about economics” is the observation made in the opening montage of the movie War Dogs. As the quote suggests, despite what you may think from the title, this is not a war picture.
The War Dogs of this movie are arms dealers — specifically Efraim Diveroli and David Packouz — two twenty-somethings who scammed the Pentagon on a multi million-dollar contract, and yes this is based on a true story.
At the beginning of the movie, Packouz (played by Miles Teller) is struggling to make it big by selling custom bed sheets to Florida retirement homes while working as a massage therapist to pay the bills. After reuniting with his old high school pal Diveroli,(played by Jonah Hill) he joins Diveroli’s “defense contracting” business AEY.
Diveroli’s business model is to scour the Pentagon’s website looking for defense contracts too small for the big contractors to waste there time on. As Diveroli explains the “crumbs” of the Pentagon’s pie can amount to millions.
AEY’s business model is based on the Bush administration’s efforts to open up bidding on military contracts to small businesses in response to the public criticisms for awarding non-bid contracts to large firms (“Cheney’s boys”).
Diveroli and Packouz both oppose the Iraq war, but as Diveroli puts it, their business is “not about being pro-war but about being pro-money.”
One of the film’s best sequences involves AEY’s attempts to get around Italy’s ban on shipping weapons to Iraq, climaxing in a harrowing ride through the triangle of death and Diveroli and Packouz being paid in US cash seized from none other than Saddam Hussein.
AEY’s biggest contract was a multi-million deal to arm US forces. I won’t spoil how they almost pulled off a huge con on the US government or the extremely stupid way they got caught. I will say that (since it was in the trailer) they won the contract by under bidding their nearest bid by $53 million dollars.
When Packouz tries to console Diveroli by pointing out that for once the American taxpayer is getting a good deal on a military contract, Diveroli replies with a sentiment shared by numerous crony capitalists, corporate welfare queens, bureaucrats, and elected officials: “(Obesity deleted) the American taxpayer”
War Dogs benefits form several strong performances. Teller does a great job as a decent man who gets involved in an indecent business for reasons both honorable (he wants to provide for his wife and daughter) and questionable (life as an international arms dealer is a lot more exciting than life as a massage therapist.)
Other stand-outs are Patrick St. Esprit as the “old-school” US Army Captain, and Bradley Cooper as Henry Girard, and arms dealer known for arming every side of every conflict. Cooper brings a prefect combination of cool and menace to his role.
But the standout performance is Jonah Hill. Hill shows why people were charmed and conned by Diveroli, while making clear that there is something a little “off” about him. Hill deserves at least an academy award nomination just for the creepy laugh he gives Diveroli.
War Dogs is an amusing film that provides an interesting look at the cynicism and corruption that infects the “business of war” and how the US government tries to look the other way.