The preview (above) shows the gun runners in “War Dogs” meeting with officials (ostensibly) at the Rock Island, Illinois Arsenal. Does the Arsenal employ twins who meet with gun providers about purchasing artillery and ammunition? No idea. Is that really the interior of the offices of the Rock Island Arsenal? Based on actually having been inside some of them, I seriously doubt the resemblance, since the “real” Arsenal is all brick and old and pretty much ancient-looking.
For years, The Quarters on Arsenal Island was the second-largest government residence, after the White House, but its antiquated kitchens and bathrooms (the place still had a recessed roof with a lever so, in the days before running water, you could heat water and then lower it for use in the 1800s) made it unsuitable for constant habitation, despite its Abraham Lincoln-era splendor. I don’t believe that it is the Commander’s official residence any more.
But what about the film “War Dogs?” I was particularly interested in seeing the film adaptation of the “Rolling Stone” article by Guy Lawson entitled “Arms and the Dude” because, reading it, I became fixated on the Rock Island (IL) connection.
So did people like Bradley Cooper, apparently, become fixated with the nearly unbelievable true piece. He plays a bit part as a shadowy arms dealer to terrorists (a part I don’t remember from the source material) and is listed as executive producer. The film is directed by Todd Phillips.
The movie outlines the more-or-less true adventures of 2 young guys who got a $300 million contract from the Pentagon to provide arms to Afghanistan. The opening date onscreen for these shenanigans is January 1, 2008. We quickly learn that it costs the U.S. government $17,500 to outfit just one American soldier. With 2 million sold and an annual bill of $4.5 billion just to provide AC for those stationed in the very, very hot Afghanistan, one savvy small-time con saw an opportunity to make money after new regulations were passed in the wake of no-bid contracts for Cheney’s boys. That led to bidding on everything and AEY (don’t ask what it stands for; it doesn’t stand for anything, and asking could get you fired) was there to provide the materials of war.
Initially, Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill), the brains behind the outfit, was bankrolled by a Jewish dry cleaning magnate, Ralph Slitsky (Kevin Pollak), who thought Efraim was sending arms to defend Israel. It will be Ralph who will fold like a cheap accordion when the questions begin flying thick and fast. Efraim involves his childhood friend David Packouz (Miles Teller).
But, before all hell breaks loose, we get lines like, “I dropped out of high school before they covered international diplomacy” from Hill’s character, who plays the part with an insouciance and aplomb that would challenge many. An unusually insightful script theme appears from the “good guy” arms dealer, David Packouz (Miles Teller of “Whiplash”), who says of Efraim: “He would figure out who someone wanted him to be and he would become that person.”
Punctuated by little messages onscreen like, “When does telling the truth ever help anybody?”, the film explains how the duo gets a major contract to supply Italian barettas to U.S. troops and, ultimately, to provide 100 million rounds of AX47 ammo, The Afghan Deal.
Problems arise when the chutzpah that has carried Efraim and David this far wears thin while facing hurdles like 68,520 crates of ammunition stuck in Albania that turn out to be filled with Chinese goods, when the U.S. has an embargo on buying from China. The solution, albeit an illegal one, is to re-pack the embargoed bullets in cardboard boxes that don’t scream “China” and send them off to the front,anyway. But Efraim doesn’t pay “the box guy” in Albania and that leads to charges of 70 federal crimes and a 4-year sentence for the guiltier of the two and the mastermind, Efraim Diveroli (who could be back in business by 2020, because the government still hasn’t closed a few loopholes in their online outsourcing M.O., says the script at movie’s end.)
The friendship unravels as the deal does. “We were never best friends. You were just playing the role of my best friend,” says David to Efraim (Teller to Hill) and this, above all, struck me as a very insightful statement. It’s happened to me. Has it happened to you?
While “The New Yorker” gave the film a very sniffy review, most critics liked the film (giving Jonah Hill’s laugh high marks) and it has a high rating on IMDB from those who have actually seen it.
We liked it. How often do you get to see identical twins from the Arsenal negotiating an arms deal with a couple of doofuses from Miami who admit they are stoned at the time? (one of whom, David Packouz, is a massage therapist).
Try it. You’ll like it.