Jonah Hill‘s rascally, conniving performance as 20something arms dealer Efrain Diveroli (a real-life guy who is not and never was a fat-ass) is the big reason to see War Dogs this weekend. Jonah, Jonah, Jonah…back in Superbad territory but with less schtick and colder blood. The highs, lows and demonic detours of a sociopathic, three-card-monte hustler! I just wish the film was more about crazy-fuck Jonah and less about Miles “don’t be a pervert” Teller, who’s playing the straight man, another real-life arms dealer named David Packouz.
Not that the film dies or slows down when it’s focusing on Teller — he’s fine, holds up his end. But Jonah is in charge of the surge moments. Half the time you’re thinking “okay, this is good, moving along but where’s Jonah” or, you know, “what’s Jonah’s next big bullshit play gonna be”?
We’ve all read that Todd Phillips‘ film is a tale about actual 20something arms dealers who got rich back in the mid aughts but were then busted for fraud. Diveroli and Packouz ran afoul of the law six or seven years ago for selling crap-level arms to the Afghan army. It’s based on Guy Lawson‘s “Arms and the Dudes: How Three Stoners from Miami Beach Became the Most Unlikely Gunrunners in History“.
Jonah’s Efraim is the kind of guy who’s always performing, selling and scheming. The kind who never deals straight cards but who can usually con-talk almost anyone into saying “yes” or at least “okay, maybe.” Or weasel his way out of a jam. I hate guys like this in real life, but I love watching them operate from a theatre seat.
There’s a dinner scene, David and his wife Iz (Ana de Armas) and four or five friends, and David mentions that he’s working with Efraim and then a woman tells him he might want to watch his back because Efraim reportedly stole money for an uncle or something like that. A debate ensues about whether or not Efraim is a bad guy, etc. All of a sudden Efraim strolls into the room and announces “hey, it’s me, the sketchy guy” or words to that effect. And then some dorky guy, looking to obscure the mood, mumbles “hey, man” to Efraim, and Jonah instantly smells the bullshit and imitates the guy to a T — “Hey, man.”
I mean, I laughed out loud at this. I chortled, I mean, and I’m generally an LQTM type. I’m seriously thinking of going back to see War Dogs again tonight just to savor this bit. Really.
There’s another great scene that expands upon that legendary Winston Churchill quote about warfare — “There is nothing so exhilarating as to be shot at with no result.” It happens during a Jordan-to-Iraq delivery of boxes of Beretta handguns, right through the infamous “triangle of death,” David and Efraim in a truck with some Jordanian guy at the wheel. And then some bad stuff almost happens and it looks hairy and then, out of the blue, they’re saved by the U.S. military (guys in trucks, an armed chopper).
I don’t believe it actually happened this way (Phillips pushes it too far, almost going for schtick) but the simultaneous feeling of being saved from death and feeling the joy of life…well, it’s pretty damn wonderful.
That’s all I’m going to say. See it or don’t but Jonah is worth the price.