It’s perhaps a sign of the times that a film you would generally expect to be released in cinemas is instead released directly to home audiences. Such is the power of companies like Netflix. War Machine is a film that has a big star and impressive cast that would actually suit a wider cinematic release and yet being released directly on a Network has also afforded the filmmakers in taking more risks with the film’s political material.

Based on the book The Operators by Michael Hastings, War Machine takes a fictionalised look at the US efforts in Afghanistan and focuses on super-star General Glen McMahon (Brad Pitt) and his strategic intentions to win the war. McMahon surrounds himself with various aides (Anthony Hayes, Emory Cohen, RJ Cyler, Daniel Betts, Topher Grace) who understand some of his oddball tactics and support him on his mission to win the war against the country’s insurgent forces. However, the more McMahon tries to further his offensive push and win the war while trying to create allies and friends among the Afghan people, the more he realises the real war is with the politicians who keep interfering with his plans and allowing his war-ending efforts to be effective.

As a political satire, War Machine holds no punches. The film is very direct in its criticism of the war and the political and misleading PR involved. The film might take a satirical approach to the subject matter to mock the severity of the situation, but there is nothing subtle about its approach and what would’ve otherwise likely being a controversial film in theatres, is afforded full flexibility to push this objective in coming on to Netflix.

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Despite, its overtly political story the script doesn’t allow itself to get bogged down with all the political talk. Much of its exposition is told through a narrator (Scoot McNairy, as a Rolling Stones journalist who documents the events) that explains many of the ideologies and philosophies that drive Pitt’s character to make the decisions that he needs to. Many times in films this approach doesn’t work, but in War Machine it simplifies things and allows the movie to tell its story without needing to explain itself. These narrations are vital in providing much of the political intentions while Pitt’s character struggles with a vast juggling act and keeping all the parties happy.

The film also never allows any scene to last long and moves quickly through the different interactions and conversations, preventing the film from becoming dry. The scenes all have meaning and are crafted into a solid and remarkably entertaining story. It establishes its characters quickly, allowing you to understand the caricatures and make sense of them. It’s a fairly long film, clocking in at close to 2 hours, but the film races through the material and it never felt long at all.

Though the script for War Machine is indeed witty, the direction by David Michod feels inconsistent, which is surprising considering he wrote the script as well. Michod appears almost confused at the approach the film must take and whether it shoulfull-oncomedic caricature or a well-intentioned political war film. Too often the script and dialogue appear more intense and direct than how it is portrayed on the screen by comical characters, especially towards the film’s closing act which is actually quite grim and bleak in tone. In the end, it’s simply not silly enough to warrant the absurdity of the characters and that absurdity robs it of intent. It’s a balancing act that sadly gets lost by Michod in the translation of his own material. There are so many good points being made in the movie, but they end up being muddied.

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It certainly is funny and War Machine contains many laugh-out-loud moments that are as funny as they are politically punching.  If you’ve watched the trailers for the film though, you’ve probably seen the best of them. Too much of the comedic effort is forced and a large part of this lies in the way the characters are played as caricatures of themselves. Pitt’s performance as the aged McMahon, in particular, is too over-the-top, with a strange accent and unusual body language that prevents you from taking his character seriously. Don’t get me wrong, this is a film that thrives on not taking itself seriously, but too often it feels wholly unnecessary in its context. Furthermore, Ben Kingsley’s portrayal of the president of Afghanistan borders on prejudice and is certainly not funny. Kingsley plays his part well, but the whole use of the character has an insulting tone to it.

War Machine is still a solid piece of entertainment though thanks to its excellent pacing, editing and sharp wit. It does sadly grow tired the closer it gets to its conclusion as the film runs out of material and you end up wishing more could’ve come from the film.

Last Updated: May 30, 2017

War Machine
Summary
A thought-provoking, entertaining and fun political satire that ends up a little unsure of itself.
6.5

Craig Risi

A man of many talents, but no sense how to use them. I could be discovering the cure for aids or finding ways to achieve world peace, but I'd rather be watching movies and writing here instead.

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