'War Machine' Movie Review
Brad Pitt in a still from 'War Machine'. Pic/YouTube
Director: David Michod
Cast: Brad Pitt, Emery Cohen, RJ Cyler, Topher Grace, Anthony Michael Hall, Anthony Hayes, John Magaro, Scoot McNairy, Will Poulter, Alan Ruck, Lakeith Stanfield, Josh Stewart, Meg Tilly, Tilda Swinton, Sir Ben Kingsley
Brad Pitt's Home Production, Plan B Entertainment's 'War Machine,' adapted with theme and tone alien to the personal account from Michael Hastings book, 'The Operators: The Wild And Terrifying Inside Story of America's War in Afghanistan' is a farcical account of a supremely over-confident General, McMahon's (Brad Pitt), attempt to do right by America. Director Michod makes this a dark satire that partially drives home the point, that, for America, it's never-ending, high cost War in the middle East is mostly a 'means' not an 'end.' Despite nearly billion dollars spent, more than 2000 American lives lost and more than 60,000 civilian casualties in the 16 years of American Military presence in Afghanistan, there's been little change in the ground reality. The Taliban still appears to command a large portion of the countryside and the newly increased presence of ISIS in the borderlands near Pakistan are adding more pressure to the already out-of-hand situation.
The writing is subversive. The narration is pointedly caricaturish. Gen Glen McMahon, a decorated leader is sent to Afghanistan on a mission - which to him is to detonate the status quo and prove that he is the one who can bring the never ending war to a triumphant close. And the narration goes about its business trying to show him up in that self-aggrandizing self belief. No matter how huge his confidence is in achieving the impossible, he is forced to realize that he himself is just a small player in the humungous National Security Machinery which has over the years, become disconnected from the realities faced by the men and women on the battlefield. The disconnect between the decision makers at the top and the ground forces who pay the price thereof, is obvious for all to see. The reality of the conflict, the administrations goals in that area and McMahon's ambitions never do reconcile.
Hastings formulated a multi-layered story, Michod instead takes a a largely flat, tangential route that sometimes brings in the laughs and at other times demands to be taken seriously. The absurdist leanings of this film's semi-serious narrative lends interest for a brief while but after a point it gets to be too repetitive and tedium inducing. This is a war film that wants to make a much broader point than what the regular war-genre pic allows. Films like 'Catch 22' and 'M.A.S.H' represented the absurdities of War quite eloquently and with consistent biting humour. The same though cannot be said about 'War Machine'. Sparingly populated, this film engages in routine rekeys, constipated parleys, feeble witticisms and degrading turns and they all amount to a concerted effort to draw the audience in. And it's pretty much obvious for all that.
Brad Pitt, who plays a fictionalized version of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, as McMahon, acts it out loud and toonish – plying it for laughs. It's a stiff backed caricature that looks silly and put on. Even the satirical tone becomes hard to sustain once McMahon returns from his stint at SASQUATCH. The amusing tone all but disappears and a serious one takes over but the Gen. never lightens up. He continues to be stiff backed and sour looking and despite that – a leader that his troops really admire and look up to. Pitt's intent here is not to look good but to present himself as a suitable toon – one that brings in the laughs and even manages to draw you out. His performance is a little too studied and stilted to make complete sense. And it becomes more obvious as his wife (Meg Tilly) comes down to spend time with him to celebrate their anniversary. McMahon is obviously unable to relate to that event given that he has barely been home or spent time with his family, in all these years. Tilda Swinton and Sir Ben Kingsley shore up this uneven attempt at hubris with distinctive turns.
This movie starts out with great vigor but as it goes along, the bewildering change in tone, the unreasonable subversion of satire and the largely unedifying performances make it, at best, a light though unsuccessful attempt to corral all the inequities of war in one go. Dariusz Wolski's camerawork makes the canvas look sweeping and Nick Cave's sparse but distinctive background score allows for some fairly interesting moments though!
Watch 'War Machine' trailer