War Machine is easily the biggest Netflix original film to date and the military satire contains solid acting performances even as it misses on some levels.
Written and directed by David Michôd, Brad Pitt leads a cast that includes Emory Cohen, RJ Cyler, Topher Grace, Anthony Michael Hall, Anthony Hayes, John Magaro, Scoot McNairy, Will Poulter, Alan Ruck, Lakeith Stanfield, Josh Stewart, Meg Tilly, with Tilda Swinton and Sir Ben Kingsley. Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Ted Sarandos and Ian Bryce produce.
Michôd’s screenplay is adapted from late journalist Michael Hastings’ book, The Operators: The Wild & Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan. The book follows General Stanley McCrystal, whose downfall came as a result of a Rolling Stone article. Some names have been changed for the screen to depict both the rise and fall of the general. There’s a satirical aspect of parody that is clear from watching. Even though it’s a Netflix original, I feel like this film may be better served for the big screen. The problem with that is that there are way too many tentpoles playing at the box office. I don’t really consider this an art house film but it would definitely have fought others for screen time.
Pitt stars as Glen McMahon, a fictional four-star general who is against the establishment and is very pro-soldier in this satirical war story. Pitt takes on this charismatic general who takes on rock-star status as he leads the coalition in Afghanistan. Just like McCrystal in real life, McMahon’s downfall is also a journalist’s expose. Pitt’s performance is superb and given that Netflix films can be nominated for the Oscars, there’s no doubt that this isn’t the last we’ll hear of War Machine.
Michôd tackles the idea of what things look like when one goes to war but has no idea of what the victory will look like in the end. Equally the film is comedic in as much as it is tragic as McMahon is so confident in taking this war to an end, once and for all. No matter how confident he is in his plan, he’s just one person in a vast machine that’s become disconnected from the troops fighting the war. Michôd, in writing the script, decided to go big and go home with General Glen McMahon as if he were a general being taken from World War 2 and placed in the 21st Century. The general serves as an over-the-top archetype who reflects the current era as he paves his way into a tragic downfall.
“While reading Michael’s book, I immediately saw a different way of looking at contemporary war because that’s when I started looking at the entirety of the machine,” Michôd says. “I saw a story that I thought could bring audiences into the raw experience of soldiers on the front lines as well as the almost nonsensical absurdity of decision-making at the strategic level – a story that examines how all the layers and systems that form this massive machine have become so disconnected from what is happening to those soldiers on the ground charged with realizing those decisions in the real world. It’s a story not just about a General blinded to the world underneath him but about that entire world.”
Netflix launches War Machine in very few theaters but will be available for streaming on Friday, May 26th.