Having watched the trailer for this new Netflix original some time ago, I was incredibly excited to watch the entire thing, going on the initial clips I had seen, but it turns out it wasn’t at all what I was expecting, due entirely to the misleading promise of the trailer that looked to be both hilarious and thrilling.
Loosely Based on the book by Michael Hastings ‘The Operators’, leading man Brad Pitt (who continues the military theme of his recent work on Allied and ‘Fury) plays well decorated and the veteran US. General Glenn McMahon. The tactical no-nonsense legendary name in the military world is sent into Afghanistan to ‘clean’ up the messy situation after 8 painful years of war. However, Pitt’s grimacing character is frustratingly vacant from the actual war scenes that make up much of the second half of the film, and although he makes the character his own, the grunting, emotionally compromised general’s speeches become repetitive rather than empowering for viewers, however passionate his character seems about winning the war.
The confusing switch between tense shootout set pieces, satirical commentary on America’s foreign policy and warfare, and the silly dialogue that fills in the rest is baffling for most of the film. Granted, there are several genuinely both funny and poignant moments which are well executed by both cast and crew, such as when on a tour of Europe with his commanders.
The major problem with ‘War Machine’ though, is that it isn’t nearly hilarious enough to be a satire, yet is nowhere near sensible enough to be taken seriously as a grown-up political-military drama with something to say either. On top of this, it’s unfortunately and woefully lacking in excitement and real narrative urgency or driving force. This is a shame because the film had a lot of potential, with a fantastic cast and director David Michôd’s clear eye for gorgeous cinematography. It’s a great idea for a movie and securing Brad Pitt, who still puts in a solid and commendable performance as the outdated general, is huge for the project. Additionally, the fantastically silly cameos from Ben Kingsley as President Hamid and Tilda Swinton as an inquisitive journalist are as surprising as they are brief. The makings are certainly there, they’ve just been overshadowed by the film’s confusion over what it wants to be.
As mentioned before, the entire film does look stunning, which has come to be expected from Netflix originals, but this and the other positives are probably not enough to make you revisit the film after the first viewing. It’s interesting and topical ideas as well as strong performances from the troops and Pitt’s on-screen neglected and lonely wife, make it well worth a watch, but how many people will remember this film in a few months’ time? Therefore, it probably bests it was a Netflix exclusive first release as it may have flopped big time on the big screen.
Words by Ed Budds