WAR DOGS: Of Men, By Men, For Men
War Dogs is a hyper-masculine film that, offensively but not surprisingly, uses its main female character simply as a plot device.
Let’s talk about War Dogs. The hyper-masculine, violence-and-cocaine-driven, boys-club-produced, warfare-is-funny misogynistic piece of American pie that is this film. Sure, I was entertained for those two hours. But I was also pretty grossed out.
Since there are so many men in the film, I spent most of my time tracking David’s girlfriend, Iz. And though she is vocal, grounded, and heartily compassionate, I despise what her character represents. In essence, she is still a played-out, recycled trope: a barometer that allows the viewer to gauge just how far David has stepped out of line.
The Likability Factor
Amazingly, Iz is not even branded as the most likable character in the film: David is. Despite the fact that he deals dangerous arms to the US government in support of a war he doesn’t believe in, and has just as much stake in the company as the much less likable Efraim, we are still rooting for David by the end of the film.
Why is this? In reality, the guy was probably a douchebag. But in the movies, we need to believe that a man can be forgiven—time and time again—and even rewarded for his mistakes and wrongdoings. Just take the last scene in War Dogs, for example. The dude gets handed a briefcase full of cash right after he is released from house arrest.
Iz, our token moral compass, assertively confronts David when he lies to her about his business. His behavior bounces off of Iz, who then decides that he is in the wrong. Of course, she later pardons David’s dishonesty, and we are back on track to liking him again.
One might argue that Iz holds a certain power here; in a way, she controls the approval/disapproval ratings of David’s character. But her role is merely reflective, almost literally, as she holds up the mirror to David’s wrongdoings. She exists to describe the kind of man David is (he is a good man when he apologizes, a bad man when he lies). Regardless, our primary sympathies still lie with David, as he is our main character and half-assed anti-hero.
The Passive Female Body: A Catalyst for Male Action
When Iz is first introduced, she is merely an adjunct to the plot, a sort of haphazard sidepiece. She sits next to David on the couch, asks him about his day, and kisses him. One might imagine that Iz would remain in this non-intrusive state for the entirety of the film, but luckily, that changes. (At least somewhat, anyway.)
Iz’s pregnancy, a “traditional” symbol of inexorable femininity, unsurprisingly catapults David into action. He takes the job offered by Efraim. He starts lying to Iz and leaves the country for work. At this point, the screenwriters rely on an element outside of Iz herself, an element involving her passive body, to keep the story going. Iz’s body acts as a surrogate for what should otherwise be female-driven action.
Interestingly enough, when Iz takes on an active role, by calling David out on his lying, she hardly affects the plot at all. David doesn’t return home from Albania because of his wife and child; he returns home because gangsters threaten his life. Sure, David feels badly for betraying Iz, but that doesn’t keep him from continuing to supply arms for a war that neither of them believes in.
War Dogs: Conclusion
It’s these faux-feminist portrayals of women that really get me. Yes, I know that War Dogs is not about Iz (in fact, it’s not about women at all) but for once I would like to see a male character simplified to a plot device. Luckily, we are seeing a wave of female filmmakers doing just that. But it is time for these directors to be recognized and embraced by the Hollywood machine. Is that really too much to ask?
What was your take on War Dogs?
War Dogs was released on August 19, 2016.
Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.