No MPAA Rating, 120 mins.
2017, No MPAA Rating, 120 mins.
Brad Pitt as Gen. Glen McMahon / Tilda Swinton as German Politician / Anthony Michael Hall as Greg Pulver / Will Poulter as Ricky Ortega / Topher Grace as Matt Little / Ben Kingsley as President Karzai / Keith Stanfield as Cpl. Billy Cole / Alan Ruck as Pat McKinnon / Emory Cohen as Willy Dunne / John Magaro as Cory Staggart / Griffin Dunne as Ray Canucci / Meg Tilly as Jeannie McMahon / John Magaro as Cory Burger / RJ Cyler as Andy Moon / Pico Alexander as Trey Wandella / Daniel Fritz as German Hotel Clerk / Scoot McNairy as Sean Cullen
Written and directed by David Michôd / Based on the book by Michael Hastings
new Netflix Original Film WAR MACHINE - based on the 2012 nonfiction book
THE OPERATORS by Michael Hastings - is a semi-fictionalized chronicle of
the firing of U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal, who led a team in
Afghanistan back in the late 2000's.
Names and details have been changed in the film, but WAR MACHINE is
not endeavoring to be a facts oriented docudrama, but rather
an ultra black comedy and satire about America's troubled history in the
Middle East...and the moral chaos and ethical madness of war and combat in
political targets that WAR MACHINE hones its crosshairs on are certainly
thorny ones, not to mention that anti-war films are a proverbial
dime-a-dozen. Satire in
general is also not easy, especially when the subject matter is very recent and
close to home for some. The
main issue here with director David Michod's (ANIMAL KINGDOM) film is not
with its lack of thematic ambition. No,
the main dilemma here it is that it suffers from some terribly
wobbly focus and some widely discordant execution.
The film contains elements of, yes, comedy and satire, but it also
has scenes that play out broadly like mad farces and then later ones that are solemnly dramatic, only then to
be followed by more moments of cartoonish wackiness.
Throughout its two hour running time I had a great deal of
difficulty disseminating (a) what WAR MACHINE was about, (b) what it was
trying to say, and (c) whether it's trying to be a madcap comedy or sobering
political/military drama...or both? There
are moments of individual greatness here to be had, but those few solid parts don't
fluidly gel together with the rest of the
MACHINE is thoroughly compelling, though, as a performance showcase for
star Brad Pitt, who commits himself rather audaciously to his role of
General Glen McMahon (a pseudonym for McChrystal), the commander of the
U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Opening
in 2009, during a time when the war in Afghanistan was going nowhere rather
fast, WAR MACHINE details the clash between political interests back home
and the military men and woman on the battlefront that are desperately -
and somewhat naively - trying to change Afghanistan for the better.
This is where McMahon steps in, a man that's respected and loved
almost as a father figure by those that serve under him (they nickname him
"The Glenimal). He's
also the kind of leader that will abandon any comforts of his position by,
for example, staying in a rundown room no better than those offered to his subordinates if it means being there for his troops.
though McMahon is adored by those in his inner circle, he finds himself
engaging in endless ideological battles with politicians back in America.
His goal is to secure a particularly hostile area of Afghanistan
and democratize it as a show of Yankee might and resolve, but he's
constantly told to abandon such aspirations ("You're not here to win
the war, you're here to clean up the mess," one politician grills him
during one heated exchange). Unfortunately,
the stubborn as hell general refuses to be a janitor and sweep the
country's problems away; he's a man of war that's hell bent on making a
Afghanistan a free nation. Armed
with his most loyal men - Pulver (Anthony Michael Hall) and Little (Topher
Grace) - and followed by a Rolling Stone writer (Scoot McNairy), McMahon
hopes he'll succeed in his mission without budging an inch, even when it
seems that the country's he's trying to "save" perhaps doesn't
MACHINE poses large thorny questions about American interests in
Afghanistan, many of which don't have easily digestible answers. The heart of the film centers on the endless stream of
setbacks and personal defeats for McMahon, and the character's staggering
level of ever-escalating anxiety and frustration slowly eats away at his
morale and soul. Pitt has
arguably never given a more frankly bizarre, yet hypnotic performance in a
film before as he does here as the emotionally beleaguered general.
He not only plays up to the man's crusty, square jawed, and
testosterone infused hubris, but he also has to suggest in other scenes a
man of wounded vulnerability. It
would be easy to write off Pitt's work as a wonky caricature - he delivers
his lines with the grizzled inflections of an Aldo Raine from INGLORIOUS
BASTERDS and has a lumbering physical posture (especially when
running) that would put Bigfoot to shame.
It's an unmistakably idiosyncratic performance that teeters on
absurdity, which, I guess, matches the film's take on the war as one of
mindless extremes. Some will
come out of WAR MACHINE thinking that Pitt's methods here are a bit too on
the nose and obvious, but I for one found him captivatingly strange; there's never ever a dull moment when Pitt occupies the frame.
is supported by a finely assembled group of actors around him, especially
from some unlikely sources like Anthony Michael Hall's barking and f-bomb
obsessed second-in-command that's an unpredictable powder keg of
hostility. I also admired Meg
Tilly's brief, but memorable turn as McMahon's semi-reclusive wife that
depressingly stands by her man despite the fact that the war has taken
over their once loving marriage. There
are a slew of other would-be significant characters (like Topher Grace's
PR man) that seem woefully underwritten and marginalized, even when they
manage to occupy scathingly funny scenes that generate ample laughs.
Ben Kingsley shows up as the amusingly bumbling President Karzai,
whom we first meet as he's vehemently cursing...at a Blu-ray player that's
he's trying to connect to an outdated TV.
WAR MACHINE has a final act that takes place on the war torn streets of a beleaguered Afghanistan region that - without divulging what happens - really cuts to the heart of the brutal and savage senselessness of war. Moments like that are sensationally effective, but they're nevertheless a distracting foil from other scenes that try to have a DR. STRANGELOVE vibe of acerbic outrageousness. More often than not, WAR MACHINE feels more like a series of unrelated vignettes that are messily strung together than a fully realized and unified movie. There's ultimately very little, if any, tonal steadiness in the narrative, and by the time the end credits roll by you're left puzzled by what transpired. Too much of WAR MACHINE wants to be a scathing character portrait, an equally sharp witted war comedy, and a nightmarish drama of what the battlefield does to young and disillusioned soldiers. But that's just it...there's too much going on in the film for its own good. WAR MACHINE is a mess, but it's a fascinating mess.
of like the war it covers, so maybe that's highly fitting.