WAR DOGS, US, 2016. Starring Miles Teller, Jonah Hill, Kevin Pollock, Ana De Armes, Bradley Cooper. Directed by Todd Phillips. 114 minutes. Rated M (Mature themes, violence, sexual references, coarse language and drug use).
The Dogs of War is a phrase used to describe combat hardship, difficulties, heroism. War Dogs is not the same thing and, in this case, definitely not the same thing.
The story is told from the point of view of David, Miles Teller doing a variation on his raunchy comedy routines but, basically, a more seriously decent type. At this stage, 2005, he is something of a pothead, trying to sell quality sheets to homes for the elderly (where the managers think that quality is useless for their clientele), then doing male massages in hotel, and in a relationship with an attractive partner, iz, who is pregnant.
At a funeral, he meets an old school friend, Efraim, Jonah Hill doing a bossy and scheming variation on his raunchy comedy routines. He has been getting arms from the police in California and selling them on eBay. Now, in Florida, he intends to expand and invites David along to be an associate, 70-30.
So much for entrepreneurial twentysomethings. But, this is a true story which takes us more than a bit beyond belief.
Efraim is rather shrewd in the sense that he doesn’t go for huge contracts but rather deals with “crumbs” and amasses quite an income. But, he becomes ambitious, entering into a contract with an officer in Iraq to supply him with Italian Beretta weaponry – but, in serious comic style, Efraim has to use his wits and David his diplomacy with the officer because Italy has introduced legislation against this kind of sale of arms, Efraim thinks they should be delivered to Jordan, the two men go over to Jordan, deal with local smugglers, drive into Iraq, are pursued by bandits but finally deliver their goods – and get a reputation with American military procurement officials.
Emboldened, they go off to a weapons exhibition in Las Vegas, encounter a famous arms dealer (played by Bradley Cooper who produced the film) and decide to go for broke with his encouragement, an enormous contract for the military.
They are able to fake their papers and accounts, and are surprised to get the contract – which seems to go off well, with visits to Albania and more dodgy deals, then dodgy deals, which brings the situation to a climax and a crisis.
The plot is interesting as one looks at American involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan at the time, the huge contracts and movement of arms, remembering the exploitation by various American companies in Iraq, but this picture of two young men becoming involved in arms sales while having no moral stance about rights or wrongs of the war, has reminded audiences of the comic expose of the entrepreneurs, young, prior to the global financial crisis, The Big Short.
Efraim becomes more and more a dislikeable character, foul-mouthed and unprincipled, while David is the one who has his conscience challenged.
In Snowden, Oliver Stone’s film about the man who leaked information, the background of his work for the CIA takes place at the same time as the action in War Dogs, even with some comment about the profligacy of military procurement. Into that setting of American management and mismanagement, War Dogs finds its place.
Roadshow Released August 18th
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.