From director Todd Phillips (“The Hangover” trilogy) comes “War Dogs,” starring Oscar nominee Jonah Hill (“The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Moneyball”) and Miles Teller (“Whiplash,” the “Divergent” trilogy).
Based on a true story, “War Dogs” follows two friends in their early 20s (Hill and Teller) living in Miami Beach during the Iraq War who exploit a little-known government initiative that allows small businesses to bid on U.S. Military contracts. Starting small, they begin raking in big money and are living the high life. But the pair gets in over their heads when they land a 300 million dollar deal to arm the Afghan Military—a deal that puts them in business with some very shady people, not the least of which turns out to be the U.S. Government.
The film also stars Ana de Armas (“Knock Knock”) and Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper (“American Sniper,” “American Hustle”).
The screenplay is by Stephen Chin and Todd Phillips & Jason Smilovic, based on the Rolling Stone article titled “Arms and the Dudes,” by Guy Lawson. Mark Gordon (“Steve Jobs”), Todd Phillips and Bradley Cooper are the producers, with David Siegel and Bryan Zuriff serving as executive producers.
“War Dogs” reunites Phillips with several of his collaborators from “The Hangover” trilogy, including director of photography Lawrence Sher, production designer Bill Brzeski and editor Jeff Groth. Joining the team is costume designer Michael Kaplan (“Star Trek,” “Star Trek: Into Darkness”). The music is by Cliff Martinez (“Drive,” “Traffic”).
Warner Bros. Pictures presents a Joint Effort/Mark Gordon Company Production, a Todd Phillips movie, “War Dogs.” Slated for release on August 19, 2016, the film will be distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.
No offense, but I’m against this war…
Dude, I’m against this war, too!
…This isn’t about being pro-war. The war is happening. This is about being pro-money
When we meet Efraim and David in “War Dogs,” they don’t appear to be the international arms dealer types. Two middle-class, early-twenty-something guys in Miami Beach, they had been best friends in junior high, but lost touch, as people do. Reunited at the funeral of a mutual friend, they reconnect and start to catch up. David has been eking out a living as a masseuse, but he thinks he has hit on a big idea—selling high-end bed sheets to Miami’s myriad of old folks homes. Efraim is also in sales, but that’s where the similarity ends.
While David has an apartment filled with boxes of unsold sheets and unpaid bills, Efraim has a bank account in the seven figures thanks to FedBizOpps, the government’s marketplace for an infinite variety of military supplies. When Efraim invites David to go into business with him, the answer is obvious. AEY INC. is born.
“Efraim is a great character,” says Jonah Hill. “He gets to be the guy who says, ‘Let’s go down the rabbit hole,’ and he’s so extreme and explosive, I just knew the role was right for me. He wants to be rich and loves the flashy, more surface things in life. That’s what he thinks will bring him happiness. He’s a wheeler-dealer who’s incredibly charming when he needs to be. But there is nothing lazy about him. He has to have enormous drive and intelligence and cunning to maneuver through this world. It made him really interesting to play.”
Phillips says that the role showcased Hill’s great versatility because “Efraim becomes whoever he needs to be in a given situation. He is a chameleon who is able to kind of blend into the person he thinks you want to him to be. It was a really fun aspect of the character for Jonah to play.”
The allure of financial freedom isn’t lost on David, but for somewhat less hedonistic reasons than Efraim. Miles Teller explains, “He is struggling to make ends meet when Efraim shows up. Efraim was his buddy when they were kids and they would get into trouble together. When he comes back into his life, David gets reenergized and excited by the opportunity to make some real money because he has a pregnant girlfriend and is wondering how he is going to provide for his family.”
“Money,” Smilovic states. “Ultimately that is what everything comes down to, isn’t it? It’s just money, but it gives you the resources to look out for yourself and the people you care about.”
Phillips, who had first met Teller when he produced the comedy “Project X,” says, “I think Miles is a world-class actor. It’s almost as if he doesn’t have to try. I don’t mean that in a negative way; he’s just naturally gifted. It’s amazing to watch. We were lucky to have both him and Jonah in the movie.”
Efraim’s and David’s newfound wealth opens the door to luxury apartments, expensive cars and better drugs. Nevertheless, David is initially forced to hide the real source of his income from his staunchly anti-gun, anti-war girlfriend, Iz, who is about to become his wife.
Ana de Armas, who plays Iz, offers, “She knows even less than half of what’s going on at first because David knows she would never approve of it, so she’s dealing with this weird atmosphere of secrecy. Naturally, at some point in the movie, she finds out, but she understands this is for the family and their future, so she decides she’s going to be supportive. Whatever he decides to do, she will be with him. That’s Iz’s main characteristic: she loves and trusts David. I thinks she’s a very strong, sensitive woman and is a very good partner in life.”
De Armas won the role after a long audition process in which the filmmakers “read a lot of women for the part of Iz,” Phillips recalls. “But when Ana came in, it was like, ‘Whoa, that’s the one.’ She’s a wonderful actress and when you look at her, she expresses so much emotion just in her eyes.”
The admiration is mutual. “Todd is very smart and what I find so remarkable about him is his ability to put movies together that connect so well with audiences,” says de Armas.
“On the set, he knows what he wants and when you feel that confidence in your director, who is the person telling you what he’s looking for, it’s amazing. He spends time with you rehearsing, so when you hear ‘Action,’ you know what to do. And then you have the freedom to play around because you have the foundation of the scene.”
Despite their success, Efraim and David are still relatively small fish in the international arms dealer pond, where one of the biggest fish is a man named Henry Girard. Bradley Cooper, who plays the role, says, “Henry is definitely not somebody you would ever want to cross in any way, shape or form. Don’t let his poor eyesight or the thick prescription glasses fool you; they are no indication of how dangerous he can be. He has been banned from doing work with the U.S. military because he’s on a terrorist watch list, but Henry still has access to a tremendous amount of ammunition that Efraim and David need to solidify a deal worth $300 million, so they get hung up with him.”
Phillips notes, “Henry is that guy who’s been on both sides of every conflict. He doesn’t have a political standing; he just likes when people fight because it’s great for business and the character of Efraim loves that attitude. So when they finally meet him at an arms convention in Las Vegas, it’s a big moment for Efraim to sit across from his hero.”
Phillips goes on to reveal, “Henry is an amalgamation of different people. These guys start crossing the wrong kind of people in an attempt to fulfill this deal and then make it a little more profitable, and it becomes dangerous for them. But we had to simplify it, as you do in making movies, so it’s represented in this made-up character.”
Efraim and David have another silent partner who has been helping to bankroll their deals for a percentage of the profits. Kevin Pollak joins the cast as another fictitious character, Ralph Slutsky, a dry cleaner whose motives go beyond the financial benefits. He affirms, “My character is a very devout Jew who believes he has a responsibility to Israel. Todd actually wrote a little speech on the topic that every Jewish person has a debt to pay to Israel…one whose weight we carry on our shoulders. That really spoke to everything Ralph is. Jonah’s character sells him on the idea that there is an aspect of their business that is supportive of Israel, so Ralph certainly feels he’s contributing to a greater cause.”
Rounding out the main cast are: JB Blanc as Bashkim, who serves as Efraim and David’s point of contact in Albania, where they have arranged to buy 100 million-plus rounds of AK-47 ammo in a $300 million deal that will make or break them; Shaun Toub as a driver they know only as Marlboro for the brand of cigarettes he smokes; and Patrick St. Esprit as Army Captain Philip Santas, who can’t believe two civilians managed to drive unscathed through Iraq’s “Triangle of Death.
The real David Packouz also makes a cameo appearance as a musician in an early scene where Teller’s character is trying to unload some bed sheets at an old age home. Phillips shares, “I thought it would be cool to put him in the movie. We have him playing ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper,’ which is obviously not an appropriate song for the venue. Sometimes you just have to have a little fun with stuff like that,” he smiles.