I’m not exactly sure what all the bitching and moaning was about (56% at Rottentomaotes – are you kidding me?!), but from where I sit and view cinema, the new Netflix original movie War Machine, from hot-shot director David Michod (Animal Kingdom, The Rover) is a pointed, extremely funny, and often times sad commentary on the war in Afghanistan and how the American military simply could never fully understand the ramifications of doing what they’ve done in the middle east. Brad Pitt is absolutely terrific as General Glen McMahon, a fictionalized version of General Stanley McChrystal, a take no nonsense commander who was given the unenviable task of “fixing” the situation in Afghanistan, something that he could never possibly have done, as he very quickly learned. One thing leads to another in this wild and woolly tale, and one of the things that I admired most about the film is that it carries a persistent “This is Fucked” vibe that’s both startling and humorous.
Pitt and the excellent ensemble cast, including Alan Ruck, Scoot McNairy, Anthony Michael Hall, Emory Cohen, Ben Kingsley, Topher Grace, Meg Tilly, Will Poulter, and Tilda Swinton, who gets one of the best and most ferocious scenes of the film with her reporter character going straight for the jugular, were clearly in match-step with one another, as Michod’s script, which was based on the book The Operators by Michael Hastings, is filled with sly yet upfront humor that rolls off the tongue, with an especially lacerating quality in various key spots. The outright hubris that was demonstrated on the parts of various government officials during these stages of the “War on Terror” is ridiculous to note, and the backwards and reductive approach to troop involvement is very much shown on screen. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski (The Martian, Dark City) shoots in a straight forward fashion, never calling attention to the images, but still giving the film a very polished and stylish look.
I absolutely love topical filmmaking and seeing stories about our current geopolitical conflicts. I’m not a “too soon” cry-baby (United 93 is and always will be a masterpiece) or someone who is easily rattled by Hollywood taking poetic license with the facts. Movies are movies, documentaries are documentaries, and when I watch something that’s ripped from the headlines, I can accept the fact that filmmakers have to change certain things around, condense characters and situations, and approach the material with a strong viewpoint in order to get their message across. War Machine is the sort of film that would have been funded by a major studio in past years, but because it doesn’t fit the current franchise-driven corporate mold and isn’t a safe “Oscar bet”, Netflix took action and made a relevant and smart piece of entertainment that sadly not enough people will check out. This is definitely not an empty-headed action picture, but rather, a film that has something on its mind that’s worth saying.
What Michod does so well in War Machine is present the absurdity of the situation, while piling on incident and conflict, with characters who shuffle in and out of the narrative who don’t ever have a full idea as to what’s truly going on around them. I don’t want spoil anything as there’s any number of scenes that are outrageous in their content and deeply funny because of the absurdity on display. The varied musical score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis plays up the comic uncertainty of the entire operation while still getting tense when required, while Peter Sciberras keeps a fast pace via tight editing; look out for a hilarious cameo during the final scene for one last kicker. And hey, if this isn’t your cup of tea and you stories cut from the world around you aren’t of interest, the latest and greatest in CGI-idiocy is playing down the hall or available to stream on various platforms. Me? I’ll take a bitter, ruthless, smarty-pants satire like this any day of the week, as War Machine further cements Michod’s arrival as a new and distinctive cinematic voice to take note of.