Movie Review: War Dogs
By Matthew Huntley
August 25, 2016
The discomforting thing about War Dogs is that even if it wasn't based on a true story, our current regulations system leads us to believe it still could be, which isn't saying a lot about the United States government or its practices in obtaining defense equipment. According to the movie (and this is something I've since learned to be true), the Department of Defense has a website on which it posts thousands of military contracts, and each one is open to public bidding so that any company, big or small, can fulfill it. This outsourcing process was put in place after the Bush administration came under fire for playing favorites to only big-time corporations following the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.
This “leveling of the playing field," if you will, gave the movie's ambitious but way-in-over-their-heads heroes the opportunity to earn a lot of money - legally. However, it also led them down a dangerous path on which they believed they could make even more money - illegally. And what's disturbing is their illegalities don't seem all that farfetched or hard to pull off. Worse still, the impression we get (from the movie anyway) is that the high-ranking officials who post the contracts don't seem to care all that much about how their orders get supplied, so long as they do.
Based on what eventually happens to the characters, this is not an efficient system. It does, however, serve as the basis for a good movie. War Dogs uses it, along with the traditional themes of “money is power” and “power is everything,” to tell a surprisingly engaging, coherent and entertaining fable. I write “surprisingly” because the director and co-writer is Todd Phillips (The Hangover trilogy, Road Trip), who isn't exactly known for making movies that aren't of a frivolous, slapstick, or perversely sexual nature. War Dogs raises his stature, though, because not only is the underlying material interesting and thought-provoking, but as a narrative, it constantly moves and defies our expectations with its earnest tones.
Much of the movie's success is owed to the performances and chemistry of the two leads, Jonah Hill and Miles Teller, who play Efraim Diveroli and David Packouz, a pair of 20-somethings who've recently reunited and dive headlong into the military arms industry. Hill and Teller are natural and convincing on-screen, and we believe they really are best friends, as opposed to actors playing best friends. When they talk about their shared experiences in junior high, their conversations sound genuine, and this authenticity allows us to see them as human and care about them on a deeper level.