There are many great war movies, Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, Jarhead etc, etc. There have been attempts in the past at funny war movies, things like Tropic Thunder spring to mind. Now, the behemoth that is Netflix, throws their hat into the ring with a satirical take on war.
War Machine is a satirical, fictional take on Michael Hastings nonfictional book The Operators, his book detailing his time and travels with US General Stanley McChrystal and his team in April 2010.
Brad Pitt stars (and produces) as General Glen McMahon. A well liked, neigh loved, and revered general in the US army who brought order to the Iraq war.
After the previous Afghanistan US army general was sacked, the powers that be, in this case being Alan Ruck (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Spin City (TV)), Griffin Dunne (Dallas Buyers Club, My Girl) and Nicholas Jones (Philomena, In The Heart Of The Sea) who are, seemingly, President Obama’s advisors, bring in McMahon.
McMahon has one thing on his mind, he wants to win this war. And when everyone tells him that they should let Helmand go, he decides that’s the area he wants to target to win.
With his fiercely loyal team around, including John Magaro (Unbroken, The Big Short), Anthony Michael Hall (The Dark Knight, Edward Scissorhands), Topher Grace (Spider-Man 3, Interstellar) and more, he sets to work understanding the lay of the land and what’s required to win.
Writer / director David Michod (The Rover, Animal Kingdom) has given us an eye-opening insight into the world of modern warfare with his tongue firmly rooted in his cheek.
The first half of War Machine is akin to a comedian taking a large breath and throwing all their best gags at you. It’s fast-paced, you’ll laugh, you’ll wince at some of the ‘decisions’ that are made and you’ll have a great time (though fair warning, some will find this a hard watch if you are unable to ‘believe’ what is said here).
Where things begin to go awry is in the less successful second half. Things get bogged down very quickly (this could be a clever metaphor on behalf of Michod but I’m not sure I buy that), the pace slows to a crawl, the laughs dry up and, criminally, the voice-over from Scoot McNairy (Aftermath, Argo) stops.
McNairy is the Rolling Stone reporter who tags along for the ride as McMahon and his team travel to Europe to try and get the additional troops they need for the big push.
Ultimately, as happened in real life, it’s McNairy’s Rolling Stone article that proves the undoing of McMahon as yet another General is brought in (a blink and you’ll miss him roll for Russell Crowe).
The ‘tale of two halves’ is a well used formula in war movies, Full Metal Jacket perhaps the best example, but it’s War Machine’s undoing. After such a great opening hour, a great OTT performance from Pitt, it feels like you’ve suddenly lost all power to the engine and are slowing rapidly, unexpectedly.
The saviour of the second half is Meg Tilly (The Big Chill, Body Snatchers) as McMahon’s wife. Her performance is wonderful but there isn’t enough of the story dedicated to her character and the relationship between the two.
There are a lot of stars in War Machine and, for the most part, they pull it off. But a sloppy second-half with underdeveloped characters leaves us wondering where all the good stuff went.