Brought in to oversee the Afghanistan war, US general Glen McMahon (Brad Pitt) finds he’s at odds with the government, who want to begin to withdraw American troops. McMahon thinks differently — he believes this is a war he can win.
Netflix has coaxed some big stars to its service, but none — not Adam Sandler, not Paul Rudd, not Idris Elba — are bigger than Brad Pitt. War Machine, then, even given its previous success, represents something of a coup for the streaming service. Produced by Pitt’s company Plan B and starring the man himself, it’s a comedic war film set towards the end of the US’ involvement in Afghanistan. But this is no Dr. Strangelove. Hell, it’s not even Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.
A fictionalised version of a true story, Brad Pitt is cocksure general Glen McMahon, inspired by real-life general Stanley McChrystal. A success during the Iraq conflict, he’s put in charge of operations in Afghanistan, but his views on how to handle the war are in direct opposition to the Obama administration. In short: they want out, he wants to win. This puts him on a collision course with the President as he leaks classified information and calls him out on television, all in order to get the 40,000 extra troops he wants to win Helmand province from the insurgent forces.
The set-up is clearly there, but writer/director David Michôd (who directed Aussie thriller Animal Kingdom) squanders it with a film that’s never sure what it wants to be. Is it a broad comedy, as Pitt’s pantomime performance suggests? Or is it striving to be a biting satire as its best moments (including an on-point scene about poppy cultivation) implies? Whatever the intention, the script doesn’t have enough big laughs or intelligence for either to truly succeed.
A confused comedy that wastes the promise of its premise. And Brad Pitt’s performance, sadly, belongs in a different film entirely.