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Was War Dogs marketed as a true story, or as one based on a true story? That’s the question currently at the center of a lawsuit against Warner Bros. over its 2016 dramedy about two young men who land a $300 million government arms contract.
The real-life gunrunner played by Jonah Hill in the film, Efraim Diveroli, in June sued Warners, director Todd Phillips and several others involved with the film. According to the complaint, while Diveroli was in prison, Phillips optioned a Rolling Stone story about his life and derailed plans the young arms dealer had to make a film based on his manuscript. Instead of suing for copyright infringement, Diveroli initially pursued claims for breach of an NDA, misappropriation of his likeness rights and conversion of confidential and proprietary information.
The studio responded with an anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss the suit but, before the court ruled, Diveroli was given time to amend his complaint.
This is where an already interesting lawsuit gets even more fun. Diveroli is focusing his suit solely at Warners and is targeting War Dogs for violations of the Lanham Act, Florida’s deceptive and unfair trade practices act and unfair competition — alleging the film was purposely mismarketed as a true story when he claims it’s really a work of fiction based on reality.
“Warner Bros. has grossed more than $85 million by marketing and promoting the movie War Dogs as the ‘true’ story of how Efraim Diveroli tried to ‘hustle’ his way to the ‘American Dream’ by becoming an international arms dealer fulfilling contracts for the United States Government during the Iraq and Afghan wars,” states the amended complaint. “In reality, War Dogs is itself the hustle — a knowingly false portrayal of Diveroli‘s real story that has been misleadingly sold to consumers as the unadulterated truth, because Warner Bros. knows that audiences are drawn to true stories.”
Warners isn’t buying it and has asked the court, again, to dismiss the suit — this time adding that “further amendment would be futile.”
“No one owns the historical facts recounted in such movies, and moviemakers have broad artistic license to dramatize stories ‘based on’ true events — in order to reach audiences, to tell a compelling story, and to convey a message,” writes attorney Matthew Kline in a motion to dismiss filed Thursday in Florida federal court. “These freedoms of speech extend to advertisements for movies, and the First Amendment bars causes of action challenging such speech.”
Judge Mary S. Scriven will have no shortage of material to aid in her decision. Both Diveroli’s memoir Once a Gun Runner…The Real Story and the War Dogs DVD were filed as exhibits this week.
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