War Dogs provides an engaging look at the real-life story of a couple young men who got in over their heads as arms dealers working with the Pentagon.
That is my summary of War Dogs. The movie was produced by Todd Phillips–director of the Hangover movies–and Bradley Cooper. The truly crazy part, though, is that War Dogs is real-life. It’s a story based on actual events, but if you didn’t know that it wouldn’t seem much different than one of the Hangover movies.
The movie focuses on a two twenty-something friends in Miami Beach who become international arms dealers. Their company–AEY–leveraged a federal website to find and land lucrative contracts with the Pentagon. Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) and David Packouz (Miles Teller) eventually landed a $300 million contract to arm the Afghan military, but government corruption and some illegal decisions on their part proved to be their undoing.
All of this went down only a few short years ago. Diveroli and Packouz–as AEY– were able to take advantage of an initiative implemented by the Bush administration to expand federal contract opportunities to small businesses. In 2011, however, the two were convicted of multiple counts of fraud. Diveroli was sentenced to four years in federal prison, while Packouz was sentenced to seven months’ house arrest.
If you want all of the salacious details, read the lengthy feature article in Rolling Stone written by Guy Lawson. It was this article that first caught Todd Phillips attention and led to the War Dogs movie project.
In a Q&A following the screening I saw, Phillips and Cooper shared some of the back story and their experiences making the movie. Phillips said the project was built around the idea of Jonah Hill starring in from the beginning. In fact, Phillips said that he had actually been trying to work with Hill for years–revealing that he originally tried to get Hill to be in The Hangover as the younger brother. The role was eventually re-imagined as an older brother and given to Zach Galifianakis instead.
It seems like a brilliant choice. I don’t know how Efraim Diveroli acts in real life, but Hill seems like a natural in the role. Miles Teller also does an excellent job as Packouz–the character through whose eyes the movie is told.
If you’ve seen the Hangover movies, you know how that group of friends manages to get into a lot of trouble resulting from a series of comical errors and bad decisions. That’s pure fiction, though. Phillips relayed the story of how he first learned about and became interested in this story. “I remember, I was literally flying to Bangkok–we were shooting Hangover 2–and I read it in Rolling Stone just like anybody. I just couldn’t–the thing that attracted me is I couldn’t believe it was real, honestly. It just felt like it was one of those, um–you know, if it was a piece of fiction in The New Yorker I would have said, ‘Oh. That’s a cool story. Cool characters. But, it’s so unbelievable it kind of doesn’t work.'”
The Q&A moderator asked, “Bradley, when you found out about the story, was there anything that really surprised you? Where you were just like, ‘This couldn’t be true’?”
Cooper replied, “Oh my God. Where do we start?”
Granted, this is a movie that is “based on a true story”, which means that there is some artistic license and embellishment for the sake of entertainment. Phillips stressed that this is not a documentary, but also shared that Lawson–who is more familiar with the story than just about anybody other than Efraim and David themselves–expressed that he was pleasantly surprised with the journalistic integrity of the film.
War Dogs is an excellent movie. The acting is exceptional and the story is engaging. It is 114 minutes of entertainment that will be worth every penny you pay to see it. The fact that it is somehow a true story of two anonymous young men doing something extraordinary is just icing on the cake.