WAR MACHINE Review: 8 out of 10 (Casualties of Ego)
WAR MACHINE is the latest big budget exclusive released on Netflix and is a testimony to the absurdity of war--specifically the war in Afghanistan. Directed and written by David Michôd, the movie is based on the nonfiction book The Operators by Michael Hastings. It is a fictionalized version of the events in the book based on the firing of United States Army General Stanley McChrystal. Hastings also followed McChrystal's team for weeks and did an unsavory write-up in Rolling Stone Magazine that ultimately led to McChrystal's dismissal.
The film stars Brad Pitt as General Glen McMahon--a four star general sent from Iraq into Afghanistan to bring the war to an end. The movie also stars Anthony Michael Hall, Anthony Hayes, Topher Grace, Will Poulter, Tilda Swinton and Ben Kingsley. Pitt is brilliant here as Gen. McMahon--a man who has surrounded himself with his own cadre of yes men. These men love McMahon, worshipping him blindly. And it is easy to understand why as McMahon is a driven leader who wants only to win a war that clearly isn't winnable. Pitt offers a portrayal here that seems to be a riff on Aldo "The Apache" Raine from Tarantino's INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS. It is as if Raine has grown older, wiser, and read a few self-help books on leadership and then been dropped into the Middle East. But like Raine, McMahon seems to come from a different era; a throwback to a military style that doesn't seem to mesh with the politicization of the war and the military. Alan Ruck and Griffin Dunne both star here as civilian officers that are trying to guide McMahon to their own endgame. Once McMahon realizes that he is being leveraged, he takes matters into his own hands, using the media to turn power in his favor.
WAR MACHINE really works as a satire of the politics of war. There is some sharp wit here that is punctuated by Pitt's fantastic performance of a general who is at once charming and equally egomaniacal. Pitt runs dangerously close to creating a cartoon of a military man, but those scenes are offset with humanizing moments. Not the least of which are scenes with his own wife (played by Meg Tilly) where it becomes clear he cannot even carry on a conversation with her, leaving intimate dinners only to drag her back to the camaraderie of his soldiers. Where the film seems to lose its footing is when it pivots away from McMahon and toward the soldiers themselves as they mount counterstrikes in the battlefield. These scenes fail to provide the punch of satirical tone the rest of the film offers, that is until McMahon arrives on the scene to provide cash gifts to a father whose son has just been killed by his men.
WAR MACHINE is an anti-war film with a tone that suggests more about dangerous politics surrounding these men than the soldiers themselves. However, McMahon himself is a dangerous creation: a man blinded by hero worship and given power over the lives of others. The message here is clear--tread lightly and be cautious.