Antiheroes of the Bush-Cheney arms boom

 

War Dogs (M). Director: Todd Phillips. Starring: Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Ana de Armas. 114 minutes

Todd Phillips' War Dogs is the latest in a string of films from the past few years — Martin Scorsese's Wolf Of Wall Street, Adam McKay's The Big Short, and Ramin Bahrani's 99 Homes among the best of them — that are custom made for our cynical times; deeply ironic black comedies and dramas featuring antiheroes who profit to the point of excess off the misery of others.

Where those films dealt with the finance industry and gained relevance from the backdrop of the Global Financial Crisis, Phillips shifts focus to the grimier world of arms dealing, in the context of Bush era conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. This world here proves to be marked by the same kind of material excess off the back of high-adrenaline wheeling and dealing as anything Wall Street has to offer.

The film's protagonists, newlywed David (Teller) and his childhood friend, the big-talking Efraim (Hill), are 20-somethings who put their entrepreneurial skills towards securing arms contracts from the US government; as they say, making a meal of the 'crumbs' left behind by larger, more established players in the industry. It's a task at which they find themselves extraordinarily successful.

Phillips is best known as the director of the Hangover movies and brings a similar frenetic and irreverent energy to this biographical story. As such a sequence where the up-and-coming David and Efraim prove their mettle by escorting a shipment by road through Iraq's so-called 'Triangle of Death' produces the kind of outrageous high-stakes comedic set piece at which Phillips excels.

Miles Teller and Jonah Hill in War DogsYet the film is frank about the shady, even diabolical side of all this. Explicitly, David and Efraim, and those like them, deal with those with whom the government cannot be seen to deal directly.

 

"It's a morally hollow justification and comes at a personal cost. At the same time, it mirrors a similar lack, albeit on a larger scale, at the heart of the American military industrial complex."

 

This includes, in their case, a suspected terrorist; the story culminates with them attempting to deliver on a particularly lucrative deal by securing warehoused Cold War munitions from Albania.

Like the characters in the other films mentioned above, David and Efraim justify their actions by the belief that they are exploiting a corrupt system, and that if they don't do it, someone else will. It's a morally hollow justification and comes at a personal cost. At the same time, it mirrors a similar lack, albeit on a larger scale, at the heart of the American military industrial complex itself.

While this broader theme looms large in the background, War Dogs primarily adopts a smaller, more personal perspective. It tends to focus on David — rather than the much less sympathetic (smarmy and duplicitous) Efraim. It attends in particular to the impact on his wife, Iz (de Armas) of his chosen career; or more to the point, his decision to not be honest with her about it.

This carries another thread that characterises the best of Phillips' films — the first Hangover film and especially the underrated Due Date — in which grown men behave badly while grappling with conflicting notions of their masculinity and individuality. As a device for character building it works: David engages our sympathy, but never fully — far from it; an effective antihero to serve a rightly cynical story.

 


Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is acting editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Tim Kroenert, War Dogs, Todd Phillips, Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Ana de Armas, Iraq, Afghanistan

 

 

submit a comment

Similar Articles

Young George

  • Geoff Page
  • 23 August 2016

What's he doing in my dream, that cardinal from Ballarat? He's in some sort of seventies presbytery or hardwood hall, shirt-sleeved but with collar on and playing ping-pong like a pro, fully-focused, yet relaxed. Forehand, backhand, lob or smash, nothing is beyond his reach. The other player is unseen but plainly worthy of attack. There's just the click of celluloid foreshadowing the rise to Rome. No ball hit that's not hit back.

READ MORE

Grandchildren are your children twice over

  • Gillian Bouras
  • 22 August 2016

When we were all younger, I wrote about my three sons. In the words of Sir Thomas More, their characteristics strangely tugged at my heart, and like More, I fed them cake, ripe apples and fancy pears. Among other things. But eventually there was a mild rebellion about the writing, in the course of which my eldest threatened to send me a bill. Now I write about my grandchildren, three boys and a girl, who are too young as yet to be so commercially minded.

READ MORE

We've updated our privacy policy.

Click to review