Written by: Stephen Chin and Todd Phillips & Jason Smilovic (screenplay), Guy Lawson (Rolling Stone article "Arms and the Dudes")
Directed by: Todd Phillips
Starring: Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Steve Lantz
My rating is simple, Watch It, It Depends, Skip it. Read my previous movie reviews!
Based on a true story, David Packouz (Miles Teller) and Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) win a $300 million contract from the Pentagon to arm America's allies in Afghanistan. They started as twenty-somethings living at home.
It's an interesting story that becomes cookie cutter half way in with the big villain and typical fall from grace. It was on the verge of exploring a new American dream, but instead takes a few too many queues from similar movies.
It takes a humorous look at government loopholes, while revealing the intricacies of arms dealers, but stops a few steps short of an education.
The movie claims war is about money plan and simple. It certainly is for David and Efraim.
Efraim is over the top with an Al Pacino Scarface poster on the wall and even discharging an automatic weapon out in the open to win a verbal challenge. I have to wonder if this is Hollywood dramatization or if that really is the actual person. I don't know.
While Efraim seems shady, David joins him at the chance to leave his dead end job and get paid. They pick up government contracts for arms and ammunition, acting as middle men.
As they reach their peak, this begins to feel like a copy of The Wolf of Wall Street. They get fancy cars, homes, and a big office. It doesn't feel justified. It never feels like they need a staff other than to include a comic relief scene and show how 'big' they've gotten. Wouldn't they just keep running the business themselves to maximize profits? Then again half of the fun for them is the flash and getting to show off their wealth. They weren't planning for retirement.
While it feels exaggerated, the entire movie is over the top to the same degree
This ties to the 'American Dream.' These guys get rich quick through a loophole. They aren't preparing for the future, they are living in the now. The more they make the more they spend. I wish the movie had stayed focused on developing these two characters.
Once this hit the big villain played by Bradley Cooper it became derivative. He's there just to set up the big fall, but that felt fabricated and unrealistic. David's wife and newborn daughter are only in this so that we feel bad for him when he's caught.
We've seen the story of two guys who make it big, get reckless, and then fall. When I originally heard this story on a podcast, it didn't seem to have these flourishes. It seemed like two guys who operated out of their house and got in over their heads. They took the risk of a huge payday, and then lied to fulfill the order. The story would have felt truer if they took a risk and that cost them, without having to resort to a villain character.
The characters on which this is based never drove a truck across Iraq. They were unable to deliver 10,000 Berettas like they did in the movie. While selling Chinese ammunition was their downfall, they were already being investigated for failing to complete orders and delivering defective equipment on a number of contracts.
What this doesn't explicitly state is that the government relied on these middle men to procure arms that were leftover from the Cold War that would have been bad publicity for the government to procure directly. This movie feels a bit like The Big Short (read my review) in that it's trying to blend real life and humor while trying to educate, but it doesn't pull it off quite as smoothly.