Collin's been a movie critic since 2009. In real life he works in marketing and is also a novelist ("Good Riddance" published in Oct 2015).
Efraim Diveroli, the twenty-something coke-head who made headlines by successfully nabbing a $300 million arms contract with the Pentagon in 2007, has made no secret of the fact that War Dogs isn’t as “based on a true story” as it claims to be. There’s no doubt in my mind that Jonah Hill’s portrayal of him is fairly spot-on, but throughout the film you can’t help but agree with Diveroli as you wonder how much better his version of the tale would have been.
Instead we get a milquetoast War Dogs, seen through the eyes of Diveroli’s partner David Packouz (Miles Teller), and the result is a clear case of what-could-have-been.
No matter whose side of the story we get, the sequence of events seems too entirely bonkers to have actually happened. It’s what director and co-writer Todd Phillips (The Hangover) does with the story that leaves you wanting more.
When college drop-out Diveroli returns to Miami to meet up with his childhood best Packouz, the two start digging through the Pentagon’s public call-for-bids web listing, searching for the little crumbs that big-time arms suppliers ignore. Their first big deal, a $180,000 contract to supply the Iraqi police with Barettas, is going fine, until the guns get held up in customs. Before we can blink, Diveroli and Packouz are smuggling the guns across the Iraq-Jordan border themselves, and earning the respect of the Pentagon in the process.
Cock-sure and and loaded for bear, the guys step up huge and bid on that $300 million dollar deal that involves 100 million rounds of ammunition, just for starters. Through back channels, shandy international contacts (including Bradley Cooper as a mega-slimy big-dog gun-runner), and more than a little luck, the two win the deal. And then everything starts going south.
Packouz, who served as an advisor for War Dogs (and also has a cameo) is clearly portrayed as the more grounded of the two. When we first meet him, he’s an on-call masseuse earning $75 an hour. He dresses nicely, has a nice girlfriend, and just wants to make a good living. In short, he’s boring-- especially compared to Diveroli, who considers Tony Montana a personal hero, dresses like a mafia kingpin, and can’t complete a sentence without tossing in an f-bomb… or twelve. Whose story would you rather hear?
Phillips tries to recapture some of the zany hijinks that propelled the Hangover trilogy, and you wouldn’t think it would be difficult given War Dogs’ subject matter, but somehow he succeeds in making a crazy story bland. Packouz is portrayed as a moral compass, but he actually comes off as little more than a twit. And poor Ana de Armas, shackled in the role as his girlfriend Iz, must have gotten whiplash bouncing forth from righteous indignation to loving support and back again… and back again.
The real-life Diveroli is suing Warner Bros for a percentage of the War Dogs profits, but I think he’s got the wrong idea. I’d suggest completely disavowing the movie entirely, waiting a few years, and then telling his own story his own way. That’s a remake I’d actually line up to see.