There is a scene in War Machine where four-star General Glen McMahon is having a casual conversation with a journalist from Rolling Stone magazine. The conversation quickly turns awkward when Glen asks the journalist to place him on the front cover on the next magazine edition. The journalist tries joking back with Glen but he is being deadly serious. He wants that front cover. In that moment, I genuinely believed I was watching a sit-com created by Ricky Gervais. There was something Extras or The Office about it, where the character seems so unreasonably desperate that it was really funny. And that kind of sums up Netflix’s original War Machine. It’s a war story but it’s extremely absurd, because by the end of the film you do not feel it is a war story anymore.
To summarise the premise: four-star General Glen McMahon is sent to Afghanistan with the task of ending the war, but he finds himself battling with politics and dealing with increased scrutiny on a daily basis. Most of the scrutiny against him is his own making. In reality, you are not entirely sure as a viewer what the actual intention of the film is. It’s widely known that the entire movie is based on the non-fiction book that led to the firing of United States Army General Stanley McChrystal, so you understand the main direction of the movie, but it is incredibly imbalanced from scene to scene. There is a sense that director David Michod did not know what feeling he wanted to evoke in the audience, so by the time you reach the credits you are confused.
That is not to say I did not like it. I actually liked it despite my many frustrations with it. There are many scenes of significance that stand out; like moments where the general is doing his speeches, or when he is spending time with his wife, are successful scenes but then they are battered by odd scenes that fit in between. It is like the film does not understand what genre it fits under. Is it a war drama? No. Comedy? No. On Wikipedia it is described as a satirical war film, which it is to a certain extent, but it does not maintain that theme throughout.
The general is played by Brad Pitt, which really shows the strength of Netflix’s negotiating hand at present, as I was very surprised to see him starring in an Original. That said, he puts in a rather unusual performance in this, and I did not really understand what he was doing. Throughout the film he was trying too hard to perform the role, like he had the idea that this was going to be a career-defining moment. The best example that I think most critics will give you is when the general goes for a 7 mile run everyday. It’s a type of run that has no reason to be, and it is nonsensical as to why Pitt thought that was a good idea. The best way of understanding what I am on about is to watch the film. There may be a reason for this run that is displayed in the book, and if there is please raise it in the comments.
War Machine is not how it sounds. There’s not much war. It’s about a General stepping on his own toes but at the same time trying his best to exceed in circumstances that appear impossible. If the vision of this film was to show the ridiculousness of the Afghanistan war then it won me over in that sense, as at times I felt sorry for the General and everyone involved. In the entire film he was naive against a naive government, so there was always going to be one result.
With all the above, this is why I struggled to review this film and I am sensing a trend. I never know where I stand with most Netflix Original films. It’s like they throw me off course by changing the genre halfway through and overplay the premise, and War Machine is one of those films. I still liked it, which is strange, I know. There are core moments in the movie I enjoyed but in a nutshell I felt sorry for the General and Afghanistan looks like a ridiculous war. Everything else in this film is just weird.
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