Jonah Hill gives a masterful performance in War Dogs, as the yeshiva-educated sociopath Efraim Diveroli.
The movie is based on a true story about two Jewish high school screwups who discover a gray area into which they can leap and make millions. They become successful small-time arms dealers, commit large-scale fraud, get arrested by the FBI, get convicted and serve time.
Putting ethics aside for the moment, Diveroli is successful because he:
1) Recognizes and exploits opportunity, at first legally and then in the "gray area," and finally outside the law
2) Masters the subject matter and all aspects of the business
3) Works hard and focuses completely on the task at hand
4) Manipulates others brilliantly into doing what he wants
5) Has others do the dirty work while taking the profit for himself
The meta-message of War Dogs is that we all face a painful choice: be evil and rich like Diveroli, or decent and lower-middle-class at best, like his partner David Packouz.
This is the problem of corruption. Contrary to what many people might think, it is not primarily an issue of individual choice. For how is the ordinary person supposed to compete if "everybody else" can only succeed by cheating?
There's nothing wrong with urging people to be innovative; to study up and work hard. There is something wrong when following the rules will not allow you to achieve a sustainable standard of living. There is something wrong when the only way to get your way is to trick other people by appealing to their emotional needs. There is something wrong when other people are putting themselves out day and night to work for an organization, and they aren't seeing the fruit of the labor that is rightfully theirs.
There is something wrong when opportunity is very tightly controlled by a select few elites at the top of the pile, through a system that is nearly completely inscrutable to even the most dogged investigator.
War Dogs is a tragic story but the biggest tragedy is the fact that our society still not-so-subtly worships the greed and corruption that fuels an Efraim Diveroli - while hypocritically paying lip service to the decent humble hardworking people who populate most companies, the people like David Packouz.
All opinions my own. Image is the War Dogs movie poster.