For the past few years, we have been spoilt by films where the leading protagonists are obsessed with money over reason. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) and The Big Short (2015) are the benchmark examples of films where characters allow money to rule above anything else. Scarily, these films, including Wardogs, base themselves on actual stories. This financial indulgence happens on the scale we witness on the big screen.
Wardogs paints a story about unlikely international arms dealers in the Iraq war. The movie provides a serious tone about war, placing the USA in a caliginous light to why it is such a money making business. Weapons, ammo, and vehicles – it all needs buying, which means someone benefits from it. Strange how you can place such a sentence when it comes to war, just like you found it ridiculous that groups of people benefitted from the recession in The Big Short. In the case of Wardogs, we are in a moment of recent US history, whereby any company can bid for military contracts. Procurement has to be fair and transparent, right?
We have two main characters; Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) embarks on a business partnership with his childhood friend David Packouz (Miles Teller). They exploit the procurement of military contracts that the government publishes publicly to which they can bid for. Initially the friends were only going after the small settlements, to which they describe as “crumbs” as the big sharks do not care about them. Their dishonest but skilful contracting allows them to expand, leading them to one of the most major military contracts in US history. The film provides this incentive that if you do what you love, and work hard for it, then you will reap the rewards. Well, kind of.
Like The Wolf of Wall Street, you witness a narrative arc where money rules the men. This persistent carrot dangling in front of them makes them want more and more. Where £1million becomes pennies and it gets to the point where the characters question the principles of it. In a sense, the narrative is quite similar, however Wardogs presents the characters in different ways. Jonah’s character is like an extreme version to the one in The Wolf of War Street; it’s like he took that character and then applied it to Efraim, who enhances the behaviour. He adores money; he loves arm deals and does not care who he backstabs or wounds in the process. The other character, David, is the complete opposite; he has something to live for other than just money. He has a newborn baby and a devoted partner to look forward to seeing every day, and he is enjoying his new found family life – Teller provides a persuasive performance of a man conflicted with his ambition to have money but not doing anything illegal. The morals and principles of the arms deals in this film cuts through the middle of the narrative in the form of David’s partner Iz.
Unfortunately, the character Iz does not work as the movie intends. Iz is meant to be the moral compass in the ordeal, but she appears too much on both ends of the spectrum. In one part of the film, she is leading the torch of reasoning and then for a vast amount of the movie appears to be accepting of the significant income, the new life and apartment, to then ultimately taking a U-turn and holding that flaming torch again. The film provides a notable problem with its characters. It is entertaining, but you could not care less about them. You enjoy their success and their immediate wealth, but you could not care less if they got caught doing anything illegal. Jonah is hilarious throughout the film with his infectious laugh and his disproportionate attitude, but if his character failed I would not bat an eyelid.
Like in The Wolf of Wall Street and The Big Short, the characters love money – they worship it like the devil. There is no sense of financial indulgence as much in this narrative, but it stinks of cash. I believe Iz was placed into the story to serve more important objectives, but with her weak input in decision-making, the money making takes precedence. You are urged as a viewer to support the success of the arms deals, but like with the other films, certain people do not warm to characters that only care about money, because it isn’t relatable to some audiences if you do not attach a principle or some form of human connection to it.
The narrative does teach a lesson. David is clearly a well-principled man, but it goes to show that money can change anyone. Efraim is clearly not a well-principled man, and is always chasing the big money, but the film also proves that in doing so you may not get the required results.
In the end, you receive a very well put together and entertaining film based on a true story about an illegal arms deal that shook America and made them reconsider their procurement policies in war. You will not be surprised by the subject matter. It’s known that companies benefit from the atrocities of war, but you will enjoy the roller coaster ride both characters go through to pull off ambitious military contracts. I guess you could argue that it must be difficult for storytellers to create a film involving these real stories where we feel sorry for the characters, but that leaves an entertaining movie, with a well-structured narrative, a few laughs but with one thing missing – sympathy.
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Daniel Hart is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has operated as Editor-in-Chief since 2017.