Film review by Jason Day of the crime drama showing in UK cinemas now (26 August 2016) starring Miles Teller and Jonah Hill as two young entrepreneurs who start selling arms to the US government. Directed by Todd Phillips.
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Director: Todd Phillips. 114 mins. Green Hat Films/Joint Effort/Mark Gordon Co. (15).
Reunited during a funeral, childhood best friends Efraim (Hill) and David (Teller) decide to start a company procuring the American government for small military contracts. As there are tens of thousands on offer, the chance of a quick, ridiculously high profit margin for their investments seems assured. After an initial run of success, the two embark on the biggest bid of their career – a $300 million contract from the Pentagon to arm America’s allies in Afghanistan.
Review, by Jason Day
The plot of this film is already an incredible, but you’d surprised to learn it is actually based on the real-life exploits of Efraim Diveroli and David Packouz (who has a cameo near the beginning of the film as a singer at a retirement home), chronicled in the Rolling Stone article ‘The Stoner Arms Dealers: How Two American Kids Became Big-Time Weapons Traders’.
For some, this will not be an easy subject matter to stomach, but the highly questionable antics of our duo are not left without a critical cinematic presentation.
For heaven’s sake, they begin their careers during a vague acquaintance’s funeral, David’s sweet wife (de Armas) acts to prick at his moral fibre and the film is punctuated with sage, satirical comments throughout. About the government and the nature of conflict for the first half, but increasingly about our protagonists, who descend rapidly and painfully from the gung-ho, whiskey-swilling, drug-snorting quasi-Robin Hoods (stealing from the government to give to themselves before others can try the same) to morally dubious ‘heroes’ feeling the rough end of federal justice.
Teller’s war profiteering spiel is hardly headline news, but the film has a riotous, foul-mouthed time taking the proverbial out of these unprincipled and amoral multi-million dollar whores, with some juicy pot shots at the US war system too.
This is also a highly fictionalised account of the real story, the trip to Fallujah for instance never happened. Air-brush screenwriting if you will, but its writing that has an attractively vulgar, flashy polish to it. The film itself feels like a freshly bleached Las Vegas bathroom floor which saw plenty of action only an hour previously.
Hill deserves all the plaudits an actor can get for illuminating in neon the most facile but intriguing of people. He excels in playing the street-smart hustler who could flog the Devil package holiday deals in hell, so this off-the-peg character fits him snugly like crisp Miami whites. He gives Ephraim’s outwardly benign party-boy a covertly dangerous vim and vigour.
He also tells a queue of Arabic people at an airport check-in desk “I have to go first, I’m an American”. (Note to self, I must use my mid-Atlantic voice in future instead of waiting patiently in line).
Despite Hill being the main draw, the film does not sag when he’s off screen as Teller is a more than capable actor who can keep an audience’s attention, even in the less flashy role. The film is pepped up intermittently by a bleary eyed Cooper (also one of the film’s producers), in a cameo as a famous arms dealer who can broker their big deal.
Co-writer Phillips keeps the dramatic incident, wise-ass comedy and in-your-face performances ticking over smoothly to deliver a film that smacks you roundly on the nose.
See the original trailer on the official website.
Cast & credits
Producers: Bradley Cooper, Mark Gordon, Todd Phillips.
Writers: Stephen Chin, Todd Phillips, Jason Smilovic.
Camera: Lawrence Sher.
Music: Cliff Martinez.
Sets: Bill Brzeski.
Miles Teller, Jonah Hill, Ana de Armas, Bradley Cooper, Kevin Pollak, J.B. Blanc, Julian Sergi, Shaun Toub, Mosa Omari.