War Dogs’ closest comparison is to Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. But Scorsese didn’t have the courage to make the ethnic angle explicit. In his memoir, embezzler Jordan Belfort had explained the animus that motivated him:
I came to realize that the WASPs were yesterday’s news, a seriously endangered species no different than the dodo bird or spotted owl. And while it was true that they still had their little golf clubs and hunting lodges as last bastions against the invading shtetl hordes, they were nothing more than twentieth-century Little Big Horns on the verge of being overrun by savage Jews like myself…
Still, you can’t blame Scorsese. First, he is in the business of making big-budget movies with the vaguely Slavic Leonardo DiCaprio as his star. While a tremendous leading man, DiCaprio, unlike Scorsese’s former main man Robert De Niro, can’t play Jewish.
Second, although Scorsese is a living legend, he’s Italian, not Jewish. So does he really need the risk? How’s Mel Gibson’s career doing?
The Wolf’s lack of courage left an opening for Hill to move up to the alpha role in War Dogs, in which Phillips is explicit about where its antiheroes are coming from: Miami Beach. (The film even changes Diveroli’s financial backer from the Mormon he was in real life to Kevin Pollak in a yarmulke.) Unlike in The Social Network, where Aaron Sorkin rationalized Mark Zuckerberg’s chicanery by painting an implausible portrait of a 21st-century Harvard where Jews are on the outside looking in, War Dogs doesn’t offer any excuses. Jonah Hill’s Efraim Diveroli isn’t a victim of stereotypes; he is a stereotype.
Critics, however, have mostly been baffled by War Dogs, wondering why isn’t this movie an exposé of Dick Cheney? And since it’s not, what in the world is this movie about anyway?
Well, War Dogs is, as Jonah Hill said, about “hustler Jews from Miami.” That’s a topic that Phillips and Hill obviously find amusing. Jewish entertainers satirizing Jewish machers has been a staple at least since The Producers.
But to most journalists these days, the concept of making fun of Jewish business ethics is not even a thought that can be put into words, rather like how in 1984 the Declaration of Independence can only be described as “crimethink.”
A lot of people give the movies a hard time for their political biases (for example, the surplus of black computer geniuses). And yet films like War Dogs often are more frank in showing human realities than the critics who claim to summarize their lessons for us.