A successful, charismatic four-star general, Glenn McMahon (Brad Pitt), leaps in like a rock star to command NATO forces in Afghanistan, only to be taken down by a journalist’s no-holds-barred exposé.
With the continuing success of Netflix’s long list of original content, some of Hollywood’s biggest stars are jumping on board. Famous icons such as Will Smith, Idris Elba and Martin Scorsese have made, or plan to make, films with Netflix. The latest celebrity to join the burgeoning empire is Brad Pitt with his latest project, “War Machine.” The film is inspired by the true story of General Stanley McChrystal, renamed Glen McMahon for the film, and the Rolling Stones article that cost him his job in Afghanistan. A story like that should offer a lot of potential, but sadly that’s not the case here. “War Machine,” for all the possible compelling commentaries it could’ve offered, ends up being a boring attempt at war satire.
“War Machine” is told at a snail’s pace that fails to be an engaging and satirical look at the politics of the war in Afghanistan. It’s too confusing for the viewer to figure out the film’s genre, as “War Machine” is too flat for satire, too serious for comedy and too bland for drama. Therefore, it’s difficult to try and figure out the target audience for the film.
It’s honestly embarrassing that Pitt, who also served as a producer, read the script by David Michôd and approved it. Michôd’s previous two films, “Animal Kingdom” and “The Rover,” were interesting character pieces with fantastic performances, however, these elements are absent here. This might be due to how he was hired by Pitt, as opposed to him coming up with the idea to make the film himself. This might’ve hindered his artistic process.
Pitt’s portrayal of McMahon doesn’t fit with the harsh Afghani environment. His character doesn’t even get an arc, but rather grows more arrogant in an attempt to add the film’s “humor.” The only scene his character gets that shows depth is a moment where he’s having dinner with his wife (Meg Tilly) and they have a conversation about how they don’t get to spend much time together. This scene feels like it belongs in a better film so that the drama of the situation could be explored to its full potential.
What’s most astounding is that the supporting characters are more stimulating to watch but aren’t explored enough. McMahon’s crew is shown to be a bunch of man-children spending their free time drinking and complaining about the Obama administration. There’s a subplot featuring Keith Stanfield as a Marine who’s frustrated, as he feels like he’s not allowed to do his job. The film even features brief appearances by Tilda Swinton and Russell Crowe, though Crowe has no no lines.
In the end, “War Machine” is a disappointment that offers nothing interesting. Viewers who choose to turn this film on will be lucky enough to stay awake past the 30-minute mark. Pitt has given better performances in the war genre (“Inglourious Basterds”) and comedy (“Burn After Reading”) that can be found on Netflix. With the vast library available, there are plenty of alternatives that will entertain subscribers.