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War Machine (2017)
War Machine is a light political satire starring Brad Pitt as Gen. Glen McMahon, an American military commander who’s sent to clean up the mess in Afghanistan (although McMahon himself is fictional, the character is heavily based on real-life Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the subject of the non-fiction book the film is based on: Michael Hastings‘ The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan). Yet despite its title, the movie is more concerned with the political machinery behind the war than it is bullets whizzing by or IEDs exploding left and right. Is it worth watching? That depends on what you’re looking for.
Moviegoers who want an intricate blueprint of the War in Afghanistan should look elsewhere, as the film doesn’t delve too deeply into the actual reasons why the United States got involved — the audience is spared a scathing condemnation of the decision to send military forces there. Rather, it gives us a glimpse of the conflicting interests and priorities of the politicians, generals, and citizens inhabiting this theater of war. The movie entertains us and ultimately succeeds as a character portrait; if you want a few laughs about the Catch-22’s of the War in Afghanistan, this will hit the spot.
While War Machine runs about two hours, director David Michôd makes good use of that time: The pacing is even, and there are plenty of chuckles to be had in this story about McMahon’s rise and fall as the leader of coalition forces in Afghanistan. To bring this character to life, Brad Pitt blends the colorful caricature of his Lt. Aldo Raine from Inglourious Basterds with the grit of his Sgt. Collier from Fury. He does a great job of imbuing the general’s naïve positivity with just the right balance of humble charisma and confident imperfection, and his performance and the sharp script help turn McMahon into an iconic figure in American culture — a man of resolute optimism whose sole objective is to win. Meanwhile, the supporting cast provide a humorous backdrop for McMahon’s exploits; it’s great fun to see Anthony Michael Hall as the blustering, comically angry Gen. Greg Pulver, and the same goes for Ben Kingsley as Afghanistan’s loopy president.
Throughout the movie, the audience is shuttled back and forth between the sandy base camps in Afghanistan’s desert and the cool-blue offices where politicians meet. We’re treated to comic high jinks and funny exchanges that bring to light the hypocrisies of modern war. And the one action sequence in the film is potent, reminding us that it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt. Although it’s a bit late to the scene to be the blistering takedown that this conflict deserved, War Machine still works as a thoroughly entertaining satire.