An uninspired take on an extraordinary true tale about two twenty-something Florida boys who became international gunrunners.
In 2001, Rolling Stone writer Guy Lawson published the extraordinary article: ‘The Stoner Arms Dealers: How Two American Kids Became Big-Time Weapons Traders’, and the response was predictably one of outrage and surprise. The entire story seemed preposterous, impossible, far too crazy to believe, and yet - as it turns out - it was precisely that quality that enabled its two subjects to get away with 'the impossible' for so very long.
David Packouz and Efraim Deveroli, two Miami-based Jewish boys in their mid-twenties, had become high-end international arms dealers, most famously landing what came to be known as ’The Afghan Deal’ - an exclusive USD$300 million contract to supply the US-backed Afghan forces with weapons, equipment and one hundred million rounds of soviet-era AK-47 ammunition from Albania.
Two guys, mid-twenties, and Packouz’s previous job was 'part-time masseuse’.
Such is the subject matter of War Dogs by director Tod Phillips (The Hangover), chronicling Packouz (Miles Teller) and Deveroli’s (Jonah Hill) astounding ascent to the big leagues of international weapons trading, as well as their inevitable fall. The title, War Dogs, refers to the nature of their particular profession: scrambling for small-scale arms contracts posted by the Pentagon to help redress the constantly undersupplied forces in the disastrous Iraq and Afghan theatres. Described as ‘eBay for weapons dealers’, these contracts were sourced off a website containing tens of thousands of Pentagon requests for tenders, and by focussing on the jobs too small to interest the major players, Packouz and Deveroli were able to amass a small fortune in a remarkably short space of time.
Broken up into chapters such as ‘God Bless Dick Cheney’s America’, War Dogs is at pains to show us the corruption of the American Ideal and the toxicity of unrestrained capitalism, both representing decades-old points long since made in every form of media and laboured here with an especially heavy hand. With its Americana rock soundtrack, freeze frames and bro-tasctic dialogue, the film plays like a wannabe Big Short or Wolf of Wall Street, yet lacks the emotional drive or dramatic tension to ever really deliver on it. Neither funny enough to be a comedy, nor serious enough to land the drama nod, it instead ends up somewhere in the middle (a fate similarly suffered by the recent Tina Fey project Whiskey Tango Foxtrot).
Overall, far too much time is spent on the overtly amusing and entertaining elements of the boys’ earlier days, leaving the heart of this remarkable real-life tale - a deal gone awry, double-crosses and a friendship in free fall - to the final stages only. As an indictment on the arms trade, too, it barely scratches the surface, opting instead to focus on the absurdity and corruption of the political system that enables it. Admittedly that narrative is a compelling one, revealing a level of bureaucratic absurdity not known to most members of the public, however - when compared to 2005’s Lord of War, which dealt with substantially similar material - this more recent offering emerges as the undisputed weaker of the two. Bland, unimaginative and ill-befitting the extraordinary story behind it, War Dogs feels like a an amazing opportunity gone begging.