Capitalism and Avarice Meet in “War Dogs”
Leon casino, Director Todd Phillips has fashioned a modern tale of capitalism and avarice, co-writing a compelling script with Stephen Chin and Jason Smilovic, based on the lengthy Rolling Stone article by Guy Lawson that was turned into the non-fiction book Arms and the Dudes. No names have been changed to protect the innocent, although a couple of people have been merged into a single composite character, like an international weapons dealer played by Bradley Cooper.
Packouz and Diveroli have a special set of skills that include owning a cell phone, having a computer with lots of time to surf the internet, and a constant supply of weed. They bong down and stay up all night plowing through contracts forty pages or longer filled with legalese and technical specifications about ordnance.
Subsequent phone calls track down millions of rounds of antiquated ammunition and grenades stored in Eastern European warehouses, left over from Cold War paranoid overtures of possible war. Only now the war is in Afghanistan and our fearless and perpetually stoned duo underbid the nearest competitor by $50 million.
Along the way Hill and Teller troubleshoot the various problems that turn up in their nefarious business. Like flying to Jordan to retrieve a shipment of Berettas that has been held up in customs and drive them through the “triangle of death” to their destination in the Green Zone in Baghdad. Or oversee the repackaging of Chinese ammunition into plain cardboard boxes at a cold warehouse in Albania.
War Dogs plays more to the dramatic side of the story allowing the comic elements like the fact that these guys are the Cheech and Chong of the gun runner set to occasional pop up. Segments of the film are divided by titles like “If I Wanted You Dead You’d be Dead,” which we then eventually hear a character say.
One sequence in particular takes on the trappings of a serious thriller when Hill and Teller drive through the Iraqi desert at night. The frame melds darkness with shapes in the distance. An army roadblock becomes a tense standoff until their guide bribes the soldiers with cartons of cigarettes. After that they call him Marlboro.
War Dogs works best when it funnels its sarcastic ribs at the American Success Story with the machinations of the worldwide arms trade, which is most of the time.