Tuesday, May 30, 2017

War Machine Netflix Movie Review

War Machine (2017)
Watch War Machine on Netflix / Read the book
Written by:  Michael Hastings (book), David Michôd (screenplay)
Directed by:
David Michôd
Starring: Brad Pitt, Anthony Michael Hall, Topher Grace, Will Poulter, Lakeith Standfield, RJ Cyler, Ben Kingsley, Tilda Swinton, Scoot McNairy, Russell Crowe

Inspired by the non-fiction book The Operators about a journalist's journey in Afghanistan with General McChrystal who experienced a meteoric rise to power before resigning after a magazine expose, this comedy war film follows Brad Pitt as fictional General Glen McMahon.

This is on the cusp of something but never gets there. It wants to be both absurd and dramatic, but does neither. Brad Pitt's accent and facial contortions would fit perfectly in a comedy, but the content is too grounded. With a few tweaks this could be a a great comedy, or conversely a great drama. It's either trying to do both, or doesn't know what to do. Either way the end result doesn't quite work. This has great potential, but you can't rate a movie on what it could have or should have done.
It depends.

I thought this was going to be a direct depiction of McChrystal, but the movie is just based on him, providing a lot of leeway, leeway that isn't used, to amplify the satire.

What is this movie? I'm not sure the creators knew. At various points this felt like it could skew towards comedy or drama, but it never embraces either one, treading water between the two. Brad Pitt could be great as a straight man in an absurd world, but this world is quite normal. Pitt's strange squinting and accent provides a lot of levity, but becomes just odd when it isn't used to comedic effect. The basis of the movie is that generals want to win, but they aren't given the resources to do that.
McMahon thinks he can win an unwinnable war. That's a great premise that isn't developed. The last scene is excellent. It's a mirror of the very first scene with a new general walking into the airport. The implication is that the process starts all over again with another general completely confidant he can win that war once and for all. In case you're wondering, the general in the final minute is indeed Russell Crowe.

There's no way to win. Everyone is pulling in a different direction, from the President, to politicians, to Generals. This even inhabits a soldier's point of view for a few minutes, but that felt strange in a movie focused on the general. It's a great scene that provides a look at a soldier's stake in the war, but it's a diversion in a movie that hadn't, to this point, been about that. It's a somber scene in a movie that bills itself as absurd.

Most of this movie is a comedy sketch show performance without the jokes. McMahon's team is a ragtag group of soldiers and a public relations contractor that should be a great comedic foundation that never takes off. This spotlights the problems with the war in Iraq but it isn't funny or interesting enough. I can think of many directors and writers I wish had tackled this movie that could do it the justice it deserves. This has incredible potential that isn't tapped. If this took just a few steps towards Doctor Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) it would improve drastically. It will never be that good, but it would certainly help. This is a missed opportunity that could have been a modern attempt at Doctor Strangelove.

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