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Movie Review

Is war about justice? Freedom? Democratic values? Nation-building?

Not if you ask twentysomethings David Packouz and Efraim Diveroli. No, if you ask them what war is really about, they've got a different answer: Money.

"War is an economy," David tells us in the opening moments of War Dogs, a film based on a true story about two enterprising Millennials who cunningly landed a $300 million arms contract to outfit Afghan rebels. "Anybody who tells you otherwise is either in on it or stupid."

David, mind you, wasn't always this knowledgeable (or cynical, for that matter) about the gritty, grimy, slimy underbelly of international arms dealing. In fact, David was pretty much just like a lot of folks in his generation, struggling to make ends meet in a job he hated (working as a masseuse in Miami).

Until, that is, the day he runs into his best friend from childhood, one Efraim Diveroli. And that day, everything changes for David.

That's because Efraim, a natural-born entrepreneur who's not at all afraid to take huge risks or bend the truth a bit (or a lot), has stumbled upon a little-known website that allows small businesses to bid on government contracts to supply the military some of its materiel. The public site is the government's attempt at procurement reform, ostensibly put in place to give the "little guys" a shot at contracts that have in the past gone to companies with ties to people high up in the government. (Like, say, Dick Cheney, according to the film.)

"It's eBay for war," Efraim gushes to his old friend, whom he's trying to recruit to join him in the lucrative business of playing the middle man between weapons manufacturers and Uncle Sam. "Bush opened the floodgates!"

When David hesitates, being against the war in Iraq and all, Efraim pours on the salesman charm. "It's not about being pro-war. It's about being pro-money." Indeed, Efraim brags that he's made $200,000 in the last eight weeks alone.

David can't resist the allure of cashola like that, of course. (Never mind that he's not quite honest to his girlfriend, Iz, about what he's actually doing.) Soon the two young Americans find themselves driving a truckload of pistols from Amman, Jordan, across the so-called "Triangle of Death" to an American general in Baghdad. (Never mind—again—that they just about died in the process, something else he doesn't quite tell his pregnant girlfriend).

But even that significantly lucrative deal pales in comparison to the one that they stumble upon next: working covertly with notorious arms dealer Henry Girard to sell the U.S. government a whopping 100 million rounds of leftover AK-47 ammo sitting forgotten in an Albanian warehouse (among other things).

Everybody wins, right? I mean, what could possibly go wrong when two twentysomething dudes from Miami actually win a contract to arm the entire Afghan resistance?

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Positive Elements

David is a basically a decent, normal guy. He strives to do right by his girlfriend, Iz, after learning that she's pregnant, promising to take care of her and the baby (though there's no talk of marriage just yet). David's also intensely loyal to Efraim—someone who, we learn, isn't worthy of David's faithfulness to him or the sacrifices David makes on his behalf.

The exponentially increasing amounts of money involved in the transactions that Efraim and David make not surprisingly leads to more and more deception—including fabricating many of the details that help them land that massive government contract. That's not good, of course. But David eventually comes to see Efraim for exactly who he is: a master manipulator whose greedy loyalty is only to himself. David is in the process of trying to distance himself from his former partner when a federal investigation ultimately catches up with both of them after their so-called "Afghan Deal" predictably goes awry.

Iz initially gives David grace when she discovers that he hasn't been telling her the truth about what he's been doing. When the lies continue, however, she wisely leaves him (and the luxurious lifestyle they're now living in a swank penthouse apartment in Miami) to go live with her mother. David eventually wins her trust again and renounces the money-chasing pursuits that have done so much damage to their relationship. In the end, Iz affirms that she never really cared about the money, but she did care about David.

Spiritual Content

Efraim (as his name hints) is Jewish. But he only claims his Jewish identity when it's to his benefit. He pretends to be a devout Jew to convince his uncle (who owns a dry cleaning business) to invest in his company. "We're doing God's work," he claims. "Protecting Israel." But he's not above pretending to be something else when necessary. Schmoozing on the phone with a general, he says, "From one Christian to another … " When Efraim and David are paid handsomely for successfully delivering guns to Iraq, Efraim exclaims, "God bless Dick Cheney's America."

At a funeral, a Jewish rabbi says that there is "no table of contents in the Book of Life," and he says that we never know when each of our "books" will be completed.

Sexual Content

David and Iz kiss. She comes out of a bathroom in her underwear and a tank top holding a positive pregnancy test. Later, she and David go to get her first ultrasound and learn that they're having a baby girl.

One of David's clients, a rich middle-aged man, purposefully drops the towel covering his backside and exposes his bare rear to David. It's implied that David's desperate enough for money that he's performed sexual acts on male clients (something Efraim mercilessly and repeatedly needles him about throughout the movie).

Efraim regularly talks about oral sex and manual stimulation, and isn't above crudely and suggestively dropping the phrase "your mom" into already foul dialogue. We see him in a room with a mostly unclothed prostitute as the strains of Neil Diamond's song "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" play in the background. Efraim laments that he can't find a woman to perform oral sex on him in a Muslim country.

Several scenes in Miami show women wearing bikinis. David and Efraim have drinks in a bar with nearly nude (but still barely covered) women dancing in the background.

Violent Content

David is kidnapped, thrown in car trunk, badly beaten and has a gun held to his face by men who think he's double-crossed them. (He hasn't, but Efraim has.) David hits Efraim in the face. Efraim successfully terrifies a drug dealer who refuses to give him marijuana after he's paid for it. He does so by calmly walking to his car, retrieving a fully automatic machine gun and randomly firing bursts into the air. (Later he also unloads a clip of AK-47 ammo into a barrel to test it.) A bar fight results in both guys getting roughed up and a table being smashed.

David, Efraim and their Jordanian driver are pursued by two truckloads of insurgents who fire multiple shots around at them before being dispersed by a U.S. Army helicopter and soldiers in Humvees.

It's implied that Efraim's attempt to manipulate the Afghan Deal to make even more money resulted in a man being killed. David finds a dead man full of bullet holes in an otherwise deserted Iraqi gas station. David lobs a gold-covered grenade facsimile through Efraim's office window.

Crude or Profane Language

Nearly 130 f-words, including at least 10 pairings with "mother." About 40 s-words. God's name is abused about half a dozen times. We hear three crude references to the male anatomy, including a rude slang reference to oral sex. Other profanities include "a--," "a--hole," "b--ch" and "p-ss." There's a single usage of "n-gga." We see multiple crude hand gestures.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Characters smoke cigarettes and consume various alcoholic beverages throughout the film. David and Efraim both repeatedly smoke marijuana. David is shown hitting a huge bong, and both of them get very stoned before pitching the Afghan Deal to a high-level group of military procurement officials and officers. As they make more money, Efraim's behavior becomes more self-destructive and hedonistic, and we see him snort cocaine a couple of times.

Efraim, David and a Jordanian smuggler aptly (but mockingly) dubbed "Marlboro" bribe Irqaqi soldiers with two cases of cigarettes in order to gain access to that country at the border.

Other Negative Elements

When people don't do what Efraim wants and he can't manipulate them, he often launches into profane verbal tirades berating and belittling them. Efraim and David sign a contract that guarantees David 30% of the company's earnings, but Efraim secretly finds and destroys it so that he won't have to pay his friend that percentage.

When David is queasy about doing a deal with someone who's been banned from the U.S. because he's on a terrorist watch list, Efraim rationalizes, "This is the job: to do business with the people the U.S. government can't do business with directly."

Efraim regularly lies to people to get deals done. "When does telling the truth ever help anybody?" he says. At a key point, he also fails to pay a group of workers who've helped package ammunition. It's suggested that Efraim also stole $70,000 from a relative. He demeans a young Jordanian boy by calling him "Aladdin."

Efraim urinates (with his back to the camera) outside an abandoned Iraqi gas station. We see people gambling huge sums of money at a casino in Las Vegas.

Conclusion

War Dogs is a profane cautionary tale about what happens when greed and cleverness inevitably undermine integrity in the pursuit of lots of money. Answer: for a while you get very, very rich. Then you go to jail.

To the film's credit, one of its two main characters eventually has a prodigal son-style "coming to his senses" moment where David realizes that no amount of money is worth what he's doing to his relationship with his girlfriend and to his own conscience, for that matter. The fact that Efraim ends up with a seven-year prison sentence (David gets seven months of house arrest after cooperating with investigators) further reinforces the point that trying to make millions by deceiving the government isn't a good idea. At all.

Still, that's also a moral that should be pretty self-evident. And one that doesn't require sitting through two hours and nearly 200 profanities to take seriously.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

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