War Dogs (2016 film)
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Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Todd Phillips|
|Based on||Arms and the Dudes
by Guy Lawson
|Music by||Cliff Martinez|
|Edited by||Jeff Groth|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|Box office||$86.2 million|
War Dogs is a 2016 American biographical black comedy-drama film directed by Todd Phillips and written by Phillips, Jason Smilovic and Stephen Chin, based on a Rolling Stone article by Guy Lawson. Lawson then wrote a book titled Arms and the Dudes detailing the story. The film follows two arms dealers, Efraim Diveroli and David Packouz, who receive a US Army contract to supply munitions for the Afghan National Army worth approximately $300 million. The film is heavily fictionalized and dramatized, and some of its events, such as the duo driving through Iraq, were either invented or based on other events, such as screenwriter Stephen Chin's own experiences.
The film stars Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Ana de Armas and Bradley Cooper, who also co-produced. Filming began on March 2, 2015 in Romania. The film premiered in New York City on August 3, 2016 and was theatrically released by Warner Bros. Pictures on August 19, 2016. It received mixed reviews from critics and grossed over $86 million. Hill received a Golden Globe nomination for his performance.
In 2005, David Packouz lives in Miami, Florida, working as a massage therapist and living with his girlfriend Iz. Desiring an additional source of income, David spends his life savings on high-quality Egyptian cotton sheets, planning to sell them to Miami retirement homes, but this venture fails to produce results. At a funeral for a friend, David runs into his high school best friend Efraim Diveroli, who had moved to Los Angeles some years prior to work with his uncle selling guns. Efraim has left his uncle and formed his own company, AEY, which fills orders for arms placed by the US government due to the ongoing War in Iraq. David's life takes another turn when his girlfriend informs him that she is pregnant. Efraim offers him a job at AEY, and even though David and Iz both vehemently oppose the war, David eventually agrees, telling his girlfriend that he has begun selling his cotton sheets to the US government through Efraim's contacts.
Efraim explains to David that all orders placed for military equipment are posted on a public website, where anyone can place bids on filling the orders, and their job is to find the small orders that larger contractors do not bother with and place bids on them, with these smaller orders still being worth millions of dollars. A local small business owner, Ralph Slutzky, assists the business with funding, under the false belief that AEY only sells arms to help protect Israel. Eventually, David and Efraim land a contract to provide several thousand Beretta pistols to the Iraqi Police in Baghdad, a deal that would put them on the map. Unfortunately, an Italian embargo blocks the shipment to Iraq, so Efraim attempts to route the shipment through Jordan, but the shipment gets held up there as well. With Iz discovering David's true business by overhearing a conversation between him and Efraim, leaving her upset, David and Efraim have to fly to Jordan to free up their cargo or risk being blacklisted by the US Government for failing to deliver.
In Jordan, Efraim manages to use bribes to free up the Beretta shipment, but are still not allowed to fly the cargo to Baghdad without a permit that will take several weeks to acquire. The guns are loaded up into a truck and the two are provided with a driver who offers to drive the guns to Iraq, as no permit is required for driving guns across the border. The three drive through the night, at one point bribing border patrol with two cartons of cigarettes, and at another point being attacked by insurgents while trying to get gas, but eventually arrive at the military base. Captain Santos, the man receiving the shipment, is impressed by the lengths the two went through to get the guns to him, and the two are paid.
After this, AEY continues to secure larger deals and make more money, even moving into a larger office and hiring more employees, and David's daughter Ella is born. Efraim, however, continues to grow more unstable and untrustworthy, as the company is suddenly given a chance to land their biggest deal yet. Known as "The Afghan Deal", the US Government wishes to arm the Afghan military for the long-term, and post a massive order worth $300 million, which includes 100 million rounds of AK-47 ammunition and would have netted the war dogs a $100 million profit. Filling this order proves to be near-impossible for such a relatively small company, particularly in that there is a global shortage on AK-47 ammunition, but the two end up lucking into an encounter with legendary US arms dealer Henry Girard. Girard has access to the massive weapon storages that were created in Albania but never used, and must now be disposed of in accordance with NATO treaties, which includes well over a hundred million rounds of AK-47 ammunition. Girard can not directly deal with the US Government anymore, due to being on a watchlist, and wants to make the deal through AEY. Efraim agrees, although David expresses discomfort working with a man who is on a terrorist watchlist.
The two go to Albania to confirm that the ammunition works, then place the winning bid on the contract – though Efraim is upset to learn that their bid was the lowest by $53 million, reducing their profit margin. Meanwhile, Iz grows frustrated with David's continuing string of lies about his work, and leaves to live with her mother. While in Albania to prepare the shipment, David discovers that virtually all of the rounds are Chinese-made and illegal under a US embargo against Chinese arms. Efraim comes up with the idea of re-packaging the rounds in generic packaging, pretending that they are concerned about the weight of the shipments (though it inadvertently does save $3 million in shipping costs). While the rounds are repackaged and shipped, Efraim learns that Henry charged them a 400% markup (10 cents on 2.5 cents) on the rounds, and wants to cut him out of the deal. David protests that they are all making great money, but Efraim destroys the only copy of his partnership contract with David and proceeds with his plan to cut Henry out.
Henry retaliates by having David kidnapped from his hotel room, beaten, and held at gunpoint before leaving him alive, though David is left wondering if his now missing Albanian driver, Bashkim, has been killed. David learns that Efraim has not paid the small ($100,000) cost to Enver, the Albanian who is handling the repackaging.
David returns to Miami, where he tells Efraim that he is quitting AEY and demands immediate payout of the $4 million (offers to settle for $1.6) owed for his work-to-date, but Efraim refuses and laughs about the partnership contract being gone. David returns to working as a massage therapist and convinces Iz to move back in with him by telling her the truth about his AEY work. Weeks later, Efraim and Ralph Slutzky meet with David. Efraim offers a severance package of just $200,000, which David responds to by threatening to blackmail him with the evidence he has of the falsified documentation the two created to look like a respectable company so they could secure The Afghan Deal. Shortly after this, David and Efraim are both arrested by the FBI. Enver, not paid for the repackaging contract and understanding the Chinese embargo, had reported AEY to the Pentagon. The FBI had arrested Ralph, who then wore a wire during the meeting with David and Efraim, giving the FBI enough to arrest them. Efraim is sentenced to four years in prison for numerous crimes related to conspiracy and fraud on The Afghan Deal, and David gets seven months house arrest in exchange for co-operating with the investigation.
Months later, David meets with Henry, who apologizes for the kidnapping and assault in Albania, claiming he had bad information. He also thanks David for not mentioning his name in his confession to the FBI. David begins to ask questions about the events of the deal, including the fate of Bashkim. In response, Henry pulls out a briefcase full of money, a part of his own cut from The Afghan Deal, and offers it to David in exchange for dropping the subject. The movie ends before David decides.
- Jonah Hill as Efraim Diveroli
- Miles Teller as David Packouz
- Ana de Armas as Iz
- Bradley Cooper as Henry Girard
- Kevin Pollak as Ralph Slutzky
- Patrick St. Esprit as Captain Phillip Santos
- Shaun Toub as Marlboro
- J. B. Blanc as Bashkim
- Gabriel Spahiu as Enver
- Barry Livingston as Army Bureaucrat
- Eddie Jemison as Hilldale Home Manager
- David Packouz as Singer at Hilldale Home
Initially, Jesse Eisenberg and Shia LaBeouf were set to star in the film; however, Jonah Hill and Miles Teller were eventually cast. Further casting was announced in early 2015, with Ana de Armas joining in February, and J. B. Blanc joining in March. Screenwriter Stephen Chin based many of the incidents on his own experiences in Iraq.
Shooting was initially set to begin late April 2015, in Miami, for several weeks. According to SSN Insider, filming began on March 2, 2015. Later confirmed by the Business Wire on March 17, 2015, filming was underway in Romania. On April 24, 2015, Hill was spotted on the film set in the Century City district of Los Angeles. On April 29, 2015, Hill and Teller were spotted filming on the set in Burbank, California. On May 7, 2015, filming took place in Miami.
War Dogs grossed $43 million in North America and $43.2 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $86.2 million, against a budget of $40 million.
In the United States and Canada, War Dogs was released on August 19, 2016, alongside Ben-Hur and Kubo and the Two Strings, and was projected to gross $12–15 million from 3,100 theaters in its opening weekend. The film made $1.3 million from its Thursday night previews and $5.5 million on its first day (including previews). It went on to gross $14.3 million in its opening weekend, finishing third at the box office and first among new releases.
War Dogs received mixed reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 59% based on 195 reviews with an average rating of the 6.1/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "War Dogs rises on the strength of Jonah Hill's compelling performance to take a lightly entertaining look at troubling real-world events." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 57 out of 100, based on 41 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale.
ScreenCrush's Matt Singer said, "Superficially, the movie looks a lot like past Phillips comedies about men behaving badly, with dirty jokes and wacky hijinks galore. But War Dogs is more critical of its protagonists’ behavior, and there’s plenty of sad commentary about the state of modern America."
Ignatiy Vishnevetsky of The A.V. Club had misgivings about the film's slant and biographical omissions, saying: "One might quibble with the way Phillips limits responsibility on the Pentagon deal by painting AEY as better businessmen than they actually were [...], while avoiding the darker sides of the story — the ones where whistle-blowing former subcontractors in Albania wind up dead under mysterious circumstances. But at least colluding with shadowy power-players to illegally sell outdated Cold War-era surplus in the name of the Bush administration teaches Packouz a valuable lesson about the importance of honesty in a relationship, so it’s not all that bad." Matt Zoller Seitz of RogerEbert.com, in a mixed-to-negative review, stated that "War Dogs is a film about horrible people that refuses to own the horribleness."
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