Review: War Machine

Distributor: Netflix
Director: David Michod
Writers: Michael Hastings, David Michod
Starring: Brad Pitt, Anthony Hayes, John Magaro, Anthony Michael Hall, Emory Cohen, Topher Grace
Genre: Comedy, Drama, War
Rated: NR
No, this is not a movie about Iron Man’s best buddy. Instead, it’s about a pivotal and trying time in the Afghani conflict. While it’s mostly about the men and women behind the scenes during these events, the movie in no way short changes the soldiers themselves. Although the movie succeeds as both a comedy and a satire, it fumbles its way through some of the bigger questions it wants to ask. I was still satisfied and am hopeful for the future of Netflix original movies.

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: Soldiers are shown in a firefight and we see several insurgents shot. We see a young boy who has died from an explosion.
Language/Crude Humor: Upward of fifty uses of the F-word. Also several uses of g-d, s***, and uses of the Lord’s name in vain.
Spiritual Content: While no direct spiritual content, it is good food for thought for the Christian’s role in wartime.
Sexual Content: None.
Drug/Alcohol References: General McMahon and his men are shown drinking a lot while on their trip in Europe.
Other Negative Content: Men are killed and disrespect is shown between McMahon and the men he works for.
Positive Content: We get to see some of the human side of war. The men fighting are shown to be legitimately affected by the things they had to do while fighting.

Review

Before I start my official review, I want to take a moment to thank all of the men and women who are currently serving or have served. It takes an incredible amount of courage to serve in the military and I have the utmost respect for all those who have. I have never served nor know anyone close to me who has and my review may reflect that. So my apologies if anything I write is incorrect or comes off as ignorant.
General Glen McMahon (Brad Pitt) is sent over to Afghanistan to take charge of the troops stationed there. Accompanied by his entourage and massive ego, he is expected to bring a swift end to the conflict. Little does he know how difficult this task will prove to be. Along the way, he agrees to be followed by a Rolling Stone journalist who is writing an expose on him and his entourage’s exploits. At this time I will mention that this film is based on the book The Operators by Michael Hastings. In his book, he details his time with the real life General Stanley McChrysal. Although some of the names, dates, and events have been changed, I’m confident that the personalities and conversations were not.
As it may come to the surprise of no one, the acting is terrific. Yet again Pitt gives us another great character to admire and adore. Pitt is sometimes unfortunately grouped in with the “pretty face” actors, but for those who have been paying close attention to his career, they know that he is arguably one of the best character actors of our time. From Lt. Aldo Raine in Inglorious┬áBastards┬áto Jeffrey Goines in Twelve Monkeys, Pitt is skilled at creating characters on all ends of the spectrum. It’s the small traits that Pitt gives to McMahon (his bowlegged running and lopsided grin for example) which fill in the minute details about his history. Before he even says a word, I feel like I have known him for years.
While Pitt brings an incredible amount of star power on his own, the rest of the movie is filled with star studded cameos. We have Ben Kingsley’s aloof and irreverent take on real life President Karzai; Lakeith Stanfield’s (Atlanta,Get Out) emotional and heartfelt turn as Cpl. Billy Cole; and a surprising appearance by Tilda Swinton as a German politician. These smaller cameos along with the rest of the cast create a believable and invest-able environment which I am happy to spend time in.
Aaron Sorkin will go down as one of the greatest screenwriters of the past thirty years. His verbosity and eloquence are unmatched in his field, yet is still able to communicate even the most difficult of topics to the simplest of minds. Having said all that, Sorkin did not write this movie. But at many times throughout, it felt every part of a Sorkin film. The quick witted and accessible dialogue is easily understood without losing its effectiveness. It’s never boring or monotonous, but instead explains the Afghani war in terms that help me understand it now better than I did when it was actually going on.
From South Park to Dr. Strangelove, satires are media with something to say and this one is no different. War, politics, misogyny, and ego are just a few of the topics covered. The movie isn’t subtle with its less than admirable view on war, but it fails to go much deeper than that. War is bad. The conflict in Afghanistan was an unwinnable affair. Old white guys are usually the ones making decisions. We already know all these things. Maybe too much time has passed since 2009 (the year this movie takes place) or maybe we’re not yet ready to talk about what happened in Afghanistan. I don’t know.
Unfortunately I don’t have the answers and neither does this movie. Instead of asking real questions or raising topics for debate, the director chose to take stances. While taking stances are fine in movies, they leave less to talk about than a movie asking important questions. The only character that seems to “get it” is Tilda Swinton’s unnamed German politician. Through a powerful and timely monologue, she is able to express everything that is wrong with McMahon and what he is doing in Afghanistan. And by the end of the movie, we see the real life consequences of the decisions McMahon has been making all along.
War is hell. That timeless phrase has been uttered by both sides of the war debate ever since there was a debate to be had. This movie doesn’t deny this simple truth, but I don’t think that’s what it’s trying to do. It wants to start a conversation, but provides few talking points to be had. It’s vague when it needs to be specific, but maybe that’s the point. If war is vague, then it’s something we don’t have to think about. We can go about our lives without giving a second thought to the battles and wars being fought; it makes our life happier. Ignorance is bliss, right?

Josh Odom

I graduated from the University of Texas with a degree in Sociology/Government and am currently a government worker. I love watching movies and have always enjoyed writing. I want to use my talents as a writer to bring glory to God in writing about movies I love. Besides that, I love to play and watch sports, read the occasional book and go through this adventure we call life.

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