May 25, 2017

SCREEN | Brad Pitt Skewers 'War Machine' on Netflix

"You can't build a nation at gunpoint."
Brad Pitt David Michôd | Netflix War Machine

Australian filmmaker David Michôd takes on late journalist Michael Hastings' non-fiction book The Operators in a fictionalized, slightly satirical bent on the American occupation of Afghanistan starring Brad Pitt (also a producer) as a version of ousted four-star U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal (renamed Glen McMahon) and his eventual downfall. War Machine is ultimately a mishmash of tones aiming to both deconstruct then make fun of the simultaneous absurdities and necessities of war in the face of civilian insurgence in the Middle East during President Obama's first term.

Pitt's broadly sardonic and cartoonish interpretation of the competent yet off-putting and blunt army general anchors the mixed nature of the film. He's surrounded by a fine cast of character actors including Anthony Michael Hall (playing a character loosley based on disgraced Gen. Michael Flynn), Topher Grace, John MagaroR.J. Cyler, Lakeith Stanfield, Will Poulter, and many others. Unfortunately, most of them fade into the background and fog of war as they serve their beloved, fearless general. We get snippets of each character's role but not nearly enough to the film feel whole.

Narrated by Scoot McNairy, he plays a Rolling Stone journalist and a Hastings stand-in who ultimately goes on to bring McMahon/McChrystal down through his casual accounts of the military occupation. Ben Kingsley as Afghan President Hamid Karzai offers a small but entertaining turn mirroring the other side of problematic governance. Michôd never quite encapsulates the military's commentary on Obama's leadership and their mission to court troops from European allies.

The film adaptation isn't nearly as witty or biting as it clearly wishes to be. Its satirical workplace construction tries to comment on government dysfunction and the ambition of men but really only ever struggles to juggle its thinly veiled real-life counterparts. Michôd's earnest entry into macho, anti-military overtones is never as effective as its ambition.

War Machine is available for streaming now on Netflix.

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