In the latest batch of movies to hit theaters, yet another “based on a true story” film has made its way into circulation. Like similar box office (and Academy Awards) hits over the past few years, ‘War Dogs’ is a little-known tale of a brilliant but dangerous get-rich-quick money-maker put into effect by two young men wanting to live the life they’ve always dreamed of. No, I’m not talking about Jordan Belfort from ‘The Wolf of Wall Street,’ although much of this movie reminded me of selling penny stocks for huge profits; this film also brought to mind the betting against the housing market we saw in one of this year’s Best Picture nominees ‘The Big Short.’
Though ‘War Dogs’ carried some of the elements of these and other similar films, it really stood on its own. David and Efraim’s self-appointed jobs of working as middlemen for weapons deals with the U.S. government turned into a huge empire and culminated with a $300 million dollar deal with the Pentagon to arm U.S. allies in Afghanistan. Until that deal, the middlemen got to sit back and let the deals happen while they reaped a profit, but (of course) this deal came with major hiccups – you know, like illegally repackaging embargoed ammunition, that kind of thing. And, let’s face it, as an arms dealer, who could really expect everything to go off without a hitch?
Surprisingly, the film didn’t seem all that far-fetched, perhaps due to David serving as a good narrator and explaining what was going on to the average audience member (since I’m assuming most of us have never been gun runners). What I enjoyed most was actually Jonah Hill’s portrayal of Efraim. Don’t get me wrong, he was kind of a jerk to a lot of people – including his partner and best friend David – but I was extremely impressed with how convincing Hill was as a character who was not all about laugh lines. There were funny parts to the film, of course, but it really said a lot about his acting capabilities that he held his own in this film. And although Hill has become a big-name actor, he hasn’t done much other than be the comedic lead. Couple him with Miles Teller, who is still becoming a more seasoned actor, and you get a combo that works surprisingly well together.
On the downside, all the guns talk and deception that goes on doesn’t make for a very light-hearted movie. I did expect it to be a bit funnier than it was given the actors involved and how the film was marketed, but overall, the story itself made up for the different expectations I had.
With so many films of this nature being produced right now, I think the moral of this story is that if you do the least amount of work for the maximum amount of money, someone gets the raw end of the deal. What Jordan Belfort did was illegal on so many levels and ended with him in prison. Betting against the housing market worked out great for our characters in ‘The Big Short,’ but ultimately millions of Americans lost their homes. With ‘War Dogs,’ the money they were making came at the expense of short jail sentences but more importantly a friendship, nearly a family and almost their lives. While these films are entertaining, they also offer a harsh reality of how society works which turns out to be really disheartening at times.