Magazine article Screen International

'War Machine': Review

Magazine article Screen International

'War Machine': Review

Article excerpt

Brad Pitt stars as an American general attempting to make effective change in Afghanistan in 2009

Dir: David Michôd. US. 2017. 121mins

War Machine is a clattering apparatus; inelegant, propulsive and, ultimately, inefficient. Taking aim at US foreign policy in Afghanistan -- and, more broadly, the American government's overreaction in the wake of 9/11 -- this satire boasts plenty of ideas but is only occasionally compelling. The film's intermittent effectiveness is embodied in star/producer Brad Pitt's performance, which aspires to greatness but too often feels muddled and showy when it ought to be incisive.

Among a large ensemble, very few of the supporting cast have opportunity to stand out

Releasing through Netflix from May 26, War Machine represents the most ambitious original movie yet from the streaming platform, which is banking on Pitt's celebrity and the story's irreverent tone to attract audiences. But, unlike popular patriotic post-9/11 war films such as American Sniper, War Machine is critical of America's Middle East adventures, which may prove a turnoff -- and, for those who opposed the war, an unwelcome reminder.

Pitt plays Glen McMahon, a four-star general who, after his success in Iraq, is ordered to lead coalition forces in Afghanistan in 2009, just as Barack Obama takes office. A cocky, smart leader of men, McMahon wants to end the conflict after eight years of quagmire, convinced that US victory is still possible. But he soon learns that government bureaucracy and an inability to understand the region may dash his hopes.

War Machine is written and directed by David Michôd (Animal Kingdom) and based on Michael Hastings' nonfiction book The Operators, which documented the journalist's 2010 travels with American General Stanley McChrystal in Afghanistan. Hastings' unflattering portrayal of McChrystal's arrogant attitude, which first appeared in a Rolling Stone profile, resulted in the general's humiliating termination.

McMahon is a fictionalized version of McChrystal, and Pitt portrays him as a boisterous, strong-willed individual with a comically outsized gait as large as his ego. Adopting a blustery tone, Pitt drifts into self-mocking caricature, as he did in Inglourious Basterds, but the character is no buffoon. In fact, what's appealing about War Machine is how Pitt and Michôd conceive McMahon to be both a blowhard and a genuinely intelligent general. McMahon may saunter into every room like he owns it, but he's convinced that Afghanistan can be "saved" if his men treat the locals with respect and demonstrate that the US military's motives are honourable. …

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