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Dogs Pass and Guns Bark in ‘War Dogs’

The affair begins on January 1, 2008, at the darkest point in film noir. Behind an abandoned factory, a naked guy is dragged out of the trunk of a car, beaten up by two thugs and threatened with death by a third. We don’t give much money for the future of this terrified young American. How did he get there?

The film adopts a comic tone to recall its beginnings. In the mid-2000s, David Packouz (Miles Teller, the beleaguered drummer of “Whiplash”), a masseuse by trade, was bored kneading the flabby bodies of Miami retirees. He seems doomed to remain a loser when he meets his childhood friend, Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill). This mortuary, soup-filled fat man makes his way through life without fear or remorse, we see him immediately fleeing the traffickers who swindled him by unleashing a volley of machine guns.

Dare to black humor

Efraim is an arms dealer, a legal business, approved by the United States government. During the Iraq war, the Bush administration sought to avoid accusations of violating antitrust law by opening the market for military supplies to small, independent dealers.

The list of products (sleeping bags, socks, gas masks, soap…) is on the Pentagon website. Efraim tracks them down, places an order with the manufacturers, and resells them to the US military, making a handsome profit. “These are small contracts. We feed on crumbs, like rats”, he explains to David, whom he wants to associate with his business. He dismisses the argument from pacifism: “It’s not about being pro-war, it’s about being pro-money.” So David accepts and, between two joints, the zygotes make money.

“War Dogs” is based on a true story, revealed in a 2011 “Rolling Stone” article, The Stoner Arms Dealers. Since it is Todd Phillips who brings this incredible affair to the screen, we have every right to fear the worst. Because after a few quality documentaries (“Bittersweet Motel”), a parodic tribute (“Starsky and Hutch”), the director has given himself over to gaudriole trash with the three episodes of “Very Bad Trip”, or the pangs of a hangover on a trio of pitiful revelers. With “War Dogs”, he finds the right tone. Rather than throwing himself into a film of solemn denunciation, he relies on the intelligence of the spectators and dares with black humor. When in the Iraqi desert, Efraim proclaims “God bless America for Dick Cheney!” there is no need for a card to point out the irony.

Todd Phillips follows in the footsteps of his colleague Adam McKay who, after “Very Bad Cops”, signed “The Big Short: The heist of the century” or the economic crisis dissected with humor. He is obviously in the wake of Andrew Niccol’s “The Warlord,” a portrayal of another cynic “providing for every army in the world except the Salvation Army.”

uninhibited enjoyer

Like all good entrepreneurs, Efraim Diveroli and David Packouz believe in growth, also known as “gold rush.” They sign to deliver a Beretta shipment to Baghdad. Bad luck: Italy prohibits exports to countries at war and the stock of pistols ends up blocked in Jordan. Leaving their cozy nest in Miami, the two friends find themselves on the ground. They collect the weapons and smuggle them across the border. They manage to deliver them and leave as millionaires.

In Las Vegas, at the arms dealers’ convention, they meet a professional dealer, Henry Giroud (Bradley Cooper), who cannot be determined if he is an international terrorist or a government official. Under his tutelage, Efraim and David signed a $300 million contract for 126 million cartridges. It is about arming US allies in Afghanistan by recycling tons of ammunition stored in Albania. And it is in this happy post-socialist land that business turns sour. David takes a beating. He is later pulled over by the FBI with Efraim for a stupid unpaid bill.

Divided into chapters with seductive titles, punctuated by some rock classics (Creedence Clearwater Revival, Pink Floyd…), “War Dogs” keeps the rhythm and opposes laughter to the cynicism of the world. The characters of Efraïm and David form the missing link between Laurel and Hardy and the Freak Brothers, an alliance of hard and soft, lovers of cannabis and dice plans.

Held back by a vestigial consciousness, David is the puppet, the narrator overwhelmed by events, while Efraim leads the way. His keen intelligence is matched only by his sheer smugness at seeing him cut the line at the airport under the guise of “I’m going ahead, because I’m an American”… Excessive, vehement, priapic, this uninhibited pleasure-seeker gifted with a prodigiously Stupid is a gifted con artist, but also an unscrupulous manipulator.

The only moral that the film proposes is the one that Leonard Cohen strikes down with dignity and fatalism at the end of the credits of “Everybody Knows”: “Everyone knows that there is a war between rich and poor…”.

“Dogs of war”by Todd Phillips (USA), with Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Bradley Cooper, Ana de Armas, 1h14

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