In 2005, David Packouz lives in Miami, Florida, working as a massage therapist and living with his girlfriend Iz. Desiring an additional source of income, David spends his life savings on high-quality Egyptian cotton sheets, planning to sell them to Miami retirement homes, but this venture fails to produce results. At a funeral for a friend, David runs into his high school best friend Efraim Diveroli, who had moved to Los Angeles some years prior to work with his uncle selling guns. Efraim has left his uncle and formed his own company, AEY, which fills orders for arms placed by the US government due to the ongoing war in Iraq. David's life takes another turn when his girlfriend informs him that she is pregnant. Efraim offers him a job at AEY, and even though David and Iz both vehemently oppose the war, David eventually agrees, telling his girlfriend that he has begun selling his cotton sheets to the US government through Efraim's contacts.
Entertaining true-life tale that doesn't have the nerve to go all the way
There were many shocking and quite unbelievable stories to emerge from the U.S. during the Bush/Cheney administration, but none were quite as fantastical as the overwhelming position 20-something minor-league arms dealers Efraim Diveroli and David Packouz found themselves in. Their tale is utterly preposterous, but entirely true, although events naturally have been dramatised for the film. Like something straight out of a culture-clash comedy from the 1980s, Diveroli and Packouz landed a $298 million Pentagon contract involving over a hundred million rounds of ammunition. The mishandling of the deal and the pair's subsequent falling out was covered in a Rolling Stone article by Guy Lawson, and later in a book by Lawson entitled Arms and the Dudes.
David Packouz (Miles Teller) is a pot-smoking massage therapist working in Miami, Florida, dividing his spare time between his girlfriend Iz (Ana de Armas) and trying, somewhat unsuccessfully, to flog the high-quality Egyptian bed-sheets that he has invested in to retirement homes. At a funeral, he encounters his old best friend Efraim (Jonah Hill), who has made a success in Los Angeles trading in arms on eBay. They rekindle their friendship, despite Efraim proving himself to be a unpredictable loose-cannon, and David eventually joins his chum at his new business venture AEY. With the war raging in Iraq, the government has set up a website offering contracts for weapons and military equipment. David's job is to pick up the crumbs; those small orders the big companies ignore.
There are, as Efraim informs David, a hell of a lot of crumbs, and the two are soon making their fortunes while Efraim indulges in everything from prostitutes to copious amounts of cocaine. The two grew up loving Brian De Palma's Scarface (1983), and imagery from the film adorns AEY's office walls. The same unquenchable greed that possessed Al Pacino's character seems to drive Efraim also, and it isn't long before you can see the inevitable downfall on the horizon. Director Todd Phillips, on the back of those terrible The Hangover sequels, seems to be intent on making a semi-serious film, and wisely takes inspiration from some of America's great dark-side- of-the-American-dream cinematic works, such as De Palma's aforementioned drug-lord saga and Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas (1990). But, unlike Adam McKay's The Big Short from last year, Phillips doesn't have the nerve to go all the way.
Where McKay exquisitely balanced comedy, drama and satire to dazzling effect, Phillips seems too intent on focusing on the goofball antics of its hapless anti-heroes to deliver any real bite. This is a story that highlights many things from the government's irresponsible approach to warfare, the dangerous practice of allowing just anybody to legally deal in arms, and the devastating effects of blind ambition, but these themes are only touched upon. Packouz is essentially our lead character, but he feels like little more than an exposition tool, with de Armas getting the thankless role of the boring partner who must warn her hubby whenever his actions lead him into the dark side. Thankfully, Jonah Hill is a tour de force, cranking his loathsome character up to 11 without ever feeling unbelievable, proving once again what a versatile actor he is becoming. If you're looking for an intelligent satire of a fascinating recent event, then you probably won't find it here, but as a piece of entertainment, it certainly delivers.
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