Welcome to the House of Crouse. By definition the term ‘war dogs’ refers to “bottom feeders who make money off war without ever stepping foot on the battlefield.” In the new film War Dogs Jonah Hill plays Efraim Diveroli, a true to life twenty-something arms dealer who fits that description to a tee. This week Hill stopped by the HoC to chat about the movies and how he gets inside the head of the characters he plays.
Richard and CP24 anchor Karman Wong talk about the weekend’s big releases, including the remake of “Ben-Hur,” the neo-western with Chris Pine, Jeff Bridges and Ben Foster “Hell or High Water,” “War Dogs,” starring Jonah Hill and Miles Teller and the stop motion animated “Kubo and the Two Strings.”
Richard sits in with Todd van der Hayden to have a look Jonah Hill as a twenty-something arms dealer in “War Dogs,” the magical stop-motion animation of “Kubo and the Two Strings,” the neo-western “Hell or High Water” with Chris Pine, Ben Foster and Jeff Bridges and the pointless remake of “Ben-Hur.”
By definition the term ‘war dogs’ refers to “bottom feeders who make money off war without ever stepping foot on the battlefield.”
In the new film War Dogs Jonah Hill plays Efraim Diveroli, a true to life 20-something arms dealer who fits that description to a tee.
“You try to understand why someone would end up like that,” Hill says when I ask how he got inside the head of the fast-talking character. “It might be a combination of wiring, lack of empathy, ego and insecurity and obsessiveness. I don’t know. I try to approach it from a therapeutic point of view. Get into the psychology of why people behave the way they do. Probably most actors do that.”
He wasn’t able to meet the real-life Diveroli but he was able to piece together the character without a face-to-face.
“I would always prefer to meet the person but if someone was playing me in a movie I would give them the best version of myself. A lot of times when you meet the person you end up having to be a really good editor, choosing what to include, but always I found meeting the people around them ends up being more helpful to me because they are giving you a warts-and-all portrayal of the person at that time.”
Hill found that version of Diveroli from many sources.
“I had a lot of help,” he says. “I got to meet David, who Miles (Teller) plays, and a few people who knew Efraim at that time. The biggest key was that they are from Miami and Miami culture is very specific. There is a very big sense of the American dream there, in a positive and negative way. There’s a big immigrant culture. People from Cuba and Haiti end up in America for the first time through Miami. Efraim is a corruption of that (American) dream.”
In the film Efraim is a self- described “Ugly American,” a borderline sociopath for whom belligerence is a default setting.
The unhinged nature of the character and Hill’s venal glee in playing up the worst in human nature keeps War Dogs interesting but some audience members see it differently.
Recently a crew of South African arms dealers approached Hill in a restaurant after seeing a trailer for War Dogs.
They were impressed and wanted to high five the actor. He says the same thing happened after he made Wolf of Wall Street, another film where he played a morally ambiguous character who struck a chord with the very people it was satirizing.
“A lot of times Wall Street bros will come up to me as if the movie is their Goodfellas or Scarface. People see what they want to see. It is a little scary sometimes when people misinterpret.”
He describes the run in with the arms dealers as “uncomfortable.”
“You don’t want to make it an overly uncomfortable environment while that is happening,” he says, “but you also don’t want to lie and be dishonest that you are agreeing with them. You don’t want to make them feel bad about their misinterpretation. It’s an unusual an awkward situation to be sure. In the end, we all want to be seen as heroes in our own story, I guess.”
In “War Dogs,” the new film from “The Hangover” director Todd Phillips, war profiteer David Packouz (Miles Teller) describes how arms dealers think. We see a soldier in battle, he sees $17,500, the cost of outfitting GI Joe with weapons and gear. “War is an economy,” he says. “Anyone who tells you otherwise is either in on it or stupid.”
When we first meet Packouz he is a twenty-something massage therapist father-to-be barely making ends meet. His fortunes change when his childhood friend Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) recruits him to sell weapons to the U.S. military. Taking advantage of new rules regarding the allocation of military funds, they bid on small contracts, profiting on deals that aren’t big enough to attract the attention of huge players like Halliburton. “I live on crumbs like a rat,” says Diveroli, “and when you’re dealing with the Pentagon you can live on crumbs.”
It’s a lucrative business. Claiming “we’re not pro war, we’re pro money,” they soon have matching Miami condos, Porsches and an appetite to get a bigger slice of the “gold rush in Iraq.” Enter Henry Girard (Bradley Cooper), a legendary arms dealer rumoured to have sold the government the rope used to hang Saddam Hussein. With his shady connections—“This is the job,” Efraim says, “to do the business with people and places in the US can’t deal with directly.”—David and Efraim make the biggest deal of their lives, a $300 million contract to arm the Afghan Military. It is smooth sailing until they realize they’re in over their heads and greed and hubris
Based on Guy Lawson’s 2011 Rolling Stone article “The Stoner Arms Dealers,” the main hurdle “War Dogs” faces is the obnoxious nature of its main characters. David and Efraim are, to varying degrees, are not likeable but luckily Teller and Hill make sure they are watchable.
Teller plays David as a guy caught up in the fast pace even though he’s in way over his head. Of the two bros, he’s the everyman, the character we’re meant to identify with and the actor makes us understand—but probably not agree with—his choices. He makes terrible decisions and it takes him too long to grasp the moral and legal repercussions of his actions (MILD SPOILER ALERT) but at least he eventually does.
Hill has a steeper mountain to climb. By definition the term ‘war dogs’ refers to “bottom feeders to make money off war without ever stepping foot on the battlefield,” and Efraim, a fast talking “Scarface” aficionado, lives up to the description. He is a self described “Ugly American,” a borderline sociopath for whom belligerence is a default setting. The unhinged nature of the character and Hill’s venal glee in playing up the worst in human nature keeps “War Dogs” interesting even when the filmmaking gets choppy.
“War Dogs” is an odd beast. It’s a star driven message movie that condemns the Pentagon procurement process while balancing elements of satire and intrigue. Films like “The Big Short” breathe the same air, but take deeper breaths. Phillips has made a film that entertains but remains a character study rather than a searing, insider’s look at the business of war.