The Good: Great commentary, Wonderful performances, Some very funny lines, Good casting
The Bad: Pacing, Repetitive use of satire, Mood
The Basics: War Machine is a good idea with some very funny lines and decent performances, but it hits the same note far too often and drags entirely through its second act.
Summer Blockbuster Season has officially arrived and arguably the biggest surprise of it so far is that Brad Pitt is headlining a film that is intended to get viewers to stay away from the movie theaters. Instead of participating in a massive special effects-driven film that is intended to make huge bank at the box office, Brad Pitt is participating in a comedy film that is now out exclusively on Netflix. The film is War Machine and while theatergoers are competing for tickets and seats for the latest Pirates Of The Caribbean film and the Baywatch theatrical release, Pitt is encouraging viewers to stay home, get comfortable and take in some satire.
War Machine is a comedy about the U.S. military and it was strategically-released for Memorial Day Weekend. Had it been released in theaters, War Machine would have been an R-rated comedy, mostly for language. War Machine, like most military films, has a lot of swearing and the "adult themes" are ironic statements on the failures of policy, personality and strategy in a mismanaged war zone. Right off the bat, War Machine is very well-written and it is often quite funny.
Eight years into the War in Afghanistan, President Obama wants to get the war done. To that end, the General leading the coalition forces in Afghanistan is replaced by the determined General Glen McMahon. McMahon and his staff are brought in to do an assessment that will inform the President on what is needed to win the war - not more troops! After meeting with President Karzai and recognizing that he will get no more help from the infrastructure in Afghanistan, McMahon tours Afghanistan. After his tour, McMahon is told that Helmand province is unsecurable, so he sets his attentions to winning over the hearts and minds in Helmand.
McMahon asks the U.S. government for 40,000 more troops to secure Helmand and is told he cannot have them until the Afghan elections are over. When he learns about the bad conditions at the U.S. position codenamed Sasquatch, McMahon accompanies his troops out into the field. McMahon hires Badi Basim to represent Afghans in his new attempt at a regime. When the election results only confirm Karzai as Afghanistan's President, McMahon leaks his own report to try to get traction and public support in the U.S. about the war.
War Machine does an excellent job of making commentary on exactly what fails in a "nation-building" military conflict. The film details well how an insurgency is virtually impossible to defeat. War Machine is very well-written in that it explores incredibly well the rhetorical difficulties with attempting to win hearts and minds when you're armed and have no clear mission.
The satire in War Machine is appropriately dry and very funny, usually in a very off-putting way. Brad Pitt leads War Machine is a great series of incredibly dry deliveries paired with a very stiff and often-ridiculous physical performance. Pitt squints with one eye through almost his entire time on screen, while keeping his other eye very wide. Pitt's stiff back and gorilla arms help to define McMahon as much as his scowl and frown.
War Machine has brilliant casting and the cast is very well used. Anthony Michael Hall creates arguably his most abrasive character ever as McMahon's right hand man, Greg Pulver. Casting Sir Ben Kingsley as President Karzai is genius and Alan Ruck is credible as Pat McKinnon, the pragmatic government foil for McMahon. Topher Grace uses his brief time on screen to deliver very funny lines and Tilda Swinton creates yet another wonderful character, even though she is not in War Machine long. In War Machine, Scoot McNairy proves that his future in voice acting is secure for each and every position David Duchovny passes on.
War Machine is an unfortunately erratic film. While the opening narration in War Machine draws the viewer in, by the time writer Sean Cullen enters the narrative as a character doing a Rolling Stone profile on McMahon, the pace of the film is virtually at a dead stop. The essential joke of War Machine is that a hapless general is put in charge of a war zone where he cannot win using his military training; that punchline is delivered multiple times within the first ten minutes of the film. By the hour mark, War Machine struggles to say anything new.
That, sadly, is the death knell of War Machine; Netflix and Brad Pitt took a big, important risk on a film that had something to say and the statement is made with hilarity very quickly. The film's social commentary is also made exceptionally quickly and reiterated many, man times in War Machine. As War Machine trudges toward its inevitable end, the joke is beaten to death and the humor, ultimately, falls unfortunately flat.
For other Netflix exclusive films, please check out my reviews of:
Take The 10
True Memoirs Of An International Assassin
I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House
The Fundamentals Of Caring
The Ridiculous 6
For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.