From Friday: War Dogs

From director Todd Phillips (“The Hangover” trilogy) comes “War Dogs,” a comedic drama based on true events, starring Oscar nominee Jonah Hill (“The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Moneyball”) and Miles Teller (“Whiplash,” the “Divergent” trilogy).

 “War Dogs” follows two friends in their early 20s (Hill and Teller) living in Miami Beach during the Iraq War who exploit a little-known government initiative that allows smaller businesses to bid on U.S. Military contracts.  Starting small, they begin raking in big money and are living the high life.  But the pair gets in over their heads when they land a 300 million dollar deal to arm the Afghan military—a deal that puts them in business with some very shady people, not the least of which turns out to be the U.S. Government. 

 The film also stars Ana de Armas (“Knock Knock”) and four-time Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper (“American Sniper,” “American Hustle,” “Silver Linings Playbook”).

The screenplay is by Stephen Chin and Todd Phillips & Jason Smilovic, based on the Rolling Stone article titled “Arms and the Dudes,” by Guy Lawson.

War Dogs dir. Todd Phillips


MONEY, CORRUPTION AND THE AMERICAN DREAM

 It might have been one of the biggest hustles ever… and it could only happen in America.

“War Dogs” grew out of the story of two stoner kids, barely into their 20s, who became multi-millionaires as the most improbable of international arms dealers.  But just as they reached what should have been the pinnacle of success, it all came crashing down in spectacular fashion.

One of the unifying themes of filmmaker Todd Phillips’ movies is people making bad decisions.  Whether it’s a few post-college guys starting their own frat house or four friends planning an ill-fated bachelor party in Vegas, there are always repercussions that are outrageous and completely unexpected.  Bad decisions are again at the centre of “War Dogs,” but there is an edge to the humour, born of the fact that the film is based on a true story of a couple of guys who managed to turn a little-known government initiative on its ear…to the tune of $300 million dollars.

Phillips offers, “I always think movies have a little more gravity to them when you can take real events and build on them.  It’s a movie about the rise and fall of two young guys, chasing their image of the ‘American dream,’ who got a little too greedy.  And, you know, a little bit of greed gets in the way of good decision making.”

Bradley Cooper, who served as a producer and also appears in the film, adds, “One thing the movie shows is how susceptible someone can be when everything is put in front of him on a silver platter and how people deal with excess differently.”

It all started during the George W. Bush administration when huge no-bid contracts to supply the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were being awarded to conglomerates like Halliburton, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin.  As criticism of the perceived cronyism and war- profiteering grew, the government decided to level the playing field with FedBizOpps (short for Federal Business Operations), which opened the bidding on military contracts to…well…virtually anyone.  Unfortunately, there were just enough loopholes to make it possible to take advantage of the system.

The tale was chronicled in a 2011 Rolling Stone article called “Arms and the Dudes,” by Guy Lawson.  “The Bush administration was trying to favor small businesses,” Lawson expands, “and no business was smaller than these dudes, sitting in a studio apartment in Miami Beach with nothing but a bong on the table, a laptop and a cell phone.”

Producer Mark Gordon recounts, “I was on a plane when I first read the story in Rolling Stone, and I couldn’t believe it was true.  Everything about it cried out to be made into a movie.  I’ve always found that audiences love films about characters who beat the system, even if they ultimately get their comeuppance, one way or another.  Add in the fact that these two seemed the most unlikely people to pull off this kind of hustle, and you have something really special.”

Gordon adds that Phillips was the perfect director to bring the tale to the big screen.  He states, “There is no one better than Todd to tell a story about outrageous characters getting into all kinds of trouble.  He’s the master.”

“War Dogs” also marks the first film on which Phillips and Cooper teamed as producers under the banner of their new production entity, Joint Effort.  Cooper relates, “I was very interested to see how Todd was going to take the article and realize it cinematically.  I loved the idea of a film about what these guys did, knowing it would be spawned from Todd’s brain.”

“As I was going through it,” Phillips recalls, “I thought, ‘This has the makings of a terrific film.’  And the more we dug into it, the more evident it became that it could be a great two-hander with the right two actors.”

Jonah Hill and Miles Teller star, respectively, in the central roles of Efraim Diveroli and David Packouz, and both say they were intrigued by these characters who jumped at the opportunity to reap huge rewards without giving much thought to what they were sowing.  Hill remarks, “There’s definitely something enticing about watching people make it rich without following the rules.  It’s why I’ve always loved gangster movies…movies where the guys with swagger win.  Until they don’t,” he smiles.

“It’s a cool story,” says Teller.  “You have to respect what they were able to do; at one point, they had a $300 million deal going.  That’s an insane amount of money for a couple of guys in their early 20s who were just fakin’ it till they made it.  It’s fascinating how things can kind of snowball and you can get in way over your head.”

The real David Packouz admits, “I won’t lie, it was pretty awesome for a while.  We would go to parties and people would introduce themselves: ‘I’m a stockbroker or I’m in real estate… So what do you do?’  ‘We’re international arms dealers.’  The initial reaction went from ‘You’re kidding, right?’ to ‘You’re full of s**t,’ but once they realized we were not joking, they were blown away.  One reason the story is so crazy is that very few people make it big in the arms business, especially at our age.  The fact that we won a contract to supply the entire Afghan army was totally bizarre.”

WAR DOGS is in UK cinemas from Friday 26th August.

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