War Machine stars Brad Pitt as General Glen McMahon, (modeled after real life General Stanley McChrystal) who has been assigned to come Afghanistan to “clean up the mess”. Not only clean it up but to really win the hearts and minds of the people of Afghanistan and install a democracy that mirrors that of America. I mean who wouldn’t want that, right? War Machine is based on real events, real people and was originally a Rolling Stone article that was turned into a book by Michael Hastings. Hastings unfortunately died in a mysterious car crash in 2013 at the very young age of 33. Writer and director David Michod has taken the material of Hastings and turned it into an interesting but ultimately empty film.
Pitt’s McMahon is an odd bird. His body is literally rigid as a board. When he jogs he barely moves his arms, hands stuck, almost claw-like. I have since watched some video of General Stanley McChrystal and he does not seem to be much like General McMahon. I don’t know what Pitt and Michod were going for with his performance but, factual or not, it is a rather inventive way of dressing up the character. McMahon’s mannerisms are a bit strange, too. His smile is more of a grimace than anything and his raspy, gravel throated voice makes him a formidable authority in the military. He is perfect for the job they give him.
No sooner is he in Afghanistan, the very same powers that gave him the position, now work against him. Bureaucrats and politicians pop up out of nowhere with ridiculous demands like, “No more troops, so don’t ask. Whatever you do, don’t ask.” One of the first things McMahon does is ask for more troops. 40,000 to be exact. “I am going to win this damn thing”, he tells his right hand man, Greg Pulver who is modeled after Michael Flynn, President Trump’s former advisor. Pulver (well played by Anthony Michael Hall) is another career officer who is behind McMahon, unconditionally. In fact, McMahon has several fellow soldiers as his staff that are all devoted to his mission. They all seem to be good fellows with noble intentions.
War Machine is well thought out and has some solid construction as a film. The biggest problem I had with this film was that it never settles on a tone. It tries to be a satire, dark comedy, combat film, character study but ends up being none of them. It is mostly a scattershot mess that works primarily as a satire. There is also an anti-military feel that seems quite unsavory. The brave souls that are the United States military are deserving respect for the sacrifices they make and the film seems to suggest they are mostly a bunch foul mouthed, drunkards, dolts, miscreants and malcontents. They are anything but that. The film is political and everyone has their own biases, understandably. I get that. But with War Machine, I strongly disagree with their assessment of the men and women who are in the military. It seems to be an unnecessary jab as is the “blame America first” theme as to why we were even in the Middle East to begin with.
As I said, War Machine works best as a satire and that seems to be what Michod’s script and direction are going for. But, every time the film starts to make some headway as a satire, it veers off in another direction. This is a very uneven film, tonally. The cast does well and Pitt carries this film, for the most part. The supporting cast is strong and Meg Tilly arrives in the film about halfway through as McMahon’s wife. She is a sweet soul who understands her husband and his absence over the years. It is a joy to see Meg Tilly back on the big screen. She had been gone for a while, but lately she is getting more work and I enjoyed every second of her screen time. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis provide a great score that enhances the emotion behind the film.
War Machine is a sixty million dollar Netflix production, but it still has a big screen feel to it. Satirically speaking, it works but the narration by Scoot McNairy is distracting and the character of Scoot McNairy never really feels fleshed out at all. He is simply thrown in to add another character to an already stuffed film. Yet, the Scoot McNairy character, Sean Cullen (modeled after the Michael Hastings) should have been one of the essential characters that butts heads with McMahon. It is his article that sinks McMahon’s whole operation but Cullen’s screen time is rather limited, sadly. War Machine is not all together a bad film. It has its moments, but overall this is a missed opportunity.
War Machine – **1/2 out of 5
War Machine – Rated R for language, gore, violence and adult situations
War Machine – Run Time is 125 minutes
War Machine is now playing in select cities, On Demand, Netflix, subscription services. Check your local listings for times, locations and availability.