Netflix is on the verge of throwing us some seriously A-list movies on its service, like Will Smith in “Bright” (coming in December) and Bong Joon Ho’s “Okja” (June 28), featuring Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal, among many others. But the first one out of the gate, the Brad Pitt-starring “War Machine” (available Friday), isn’t a strong start.
Pitt plays four-star general Glen McMahon, who has been assigned to head the Allied Forces’ war in Afghanistan circa 2010 and bring it to a quick end. But with a mixture of ego and stupidity, McMahon finds himself deeper into the war than when he started, which eventually leads to his downfall.
Directed by David Michôd (“Animal Kingdom”), the movie tries to be a witty commentary on our involvement in the Middle East, but instead it’s a pretentious snooze that isn’t as funny as it thinks it is.
An adaptation of the Michael Hastings nonfiction book “The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan,” the movie’s McMahon is based on General Stanley McChrystal, the main subject of the book. It’s a follow-up to Hastings’ Rolling Stone article “The Runaway General,” which led to McChrystal’s resignation. Both the article and the book detail Hastings’ time with McChrystal and his staff in Afghanistan as they mock government officials like then-Vice President Joe Biden as well as US Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl W. Eikenberry.
It’s obvious Michôd, who also wrote the screenplay, tried to take the whole situation and turn it into a wanna-be “Wag the Dog” political satire. What we get instead is Pitt with silver hair and a weird voice doing a strange jog (seriously, if anything, see the movie so you can make a GIF of Pitt jogging… it’s the only funny thing in this movie).
Perhaps its only highlight is the brief scene that features a platoon in battle in Afghanistan, which pretty much condenses the whole point of the movie. We find the troops looking for the bad guys and when they find themselves in a firefight, they unleash a barrage of high-powered rifle bullets and bombs (including one soldier, played by “Atlanta” star Lakeith Stanfield, taking it upon himself to go solo and take out the insurgents). However, we find that in the battle a bomb hits a family’s home and a child is killed. McMahon comes to look over the scene and apologise to the family. The villagers plead for him and his troops to just leave the region.
But this is only one powerful scene in a movie filled with flaws. Though the real-life events of McChrystal and his team are ripe for satire, “War Machine” gets too caught up in the fog of war to give its audience anything to latch onto.