“WAR MACHINE” Reviewed: Damp deadpan drama captures a muddled war

David Michod / Brad Pitt, Emory Cohen, RJ Cyler, Topher Grace, Anthony Michael Hall, Ben Kingsley / Comedy / 2017 / 15 / 122mins

The war in Afghanistan was a failure. There’s no denying that. And there’s no denying that it was always bound to be a ripe target for satire enthusiasts. Make way for Australian auteur David Michod, who brings awkward humour to another level with Brad Pitt as his centrepiece.

General Glen McMahon (Pitt) is sent to Afghanistan to bring the war to an end. On paper, the man is near-perfection. But a man of superhuman feats always has a flaw, and Glen’s is stubbornness. Told he cannot take Helmand Province, Glen decides to… take Helmand Province, despite the political obstacles in his way and a population that doesn’t really want to be saved.

You cannot talk about War Machine without talking about Pitt. He clearly relishes the role, channelling a hefty amount of Basterd Aldo Raine. The monotone accent. The cheeky grin. The perma-crooked hand always gesticulating. The robotic morning jog. All point to a nonhuman human. The fictionalised McMahon is the epitome of the gung-ho American general.

Pitt’s stereotype is meant to be funny, and he is. The problem is how you react in the context of the film. Main point being there’s a lot of drama for a film that starts out not all too serious. Sure, war is horrific, but when you’re scoring faulty long-distance-relationship dynamics over slapstick in a comedy then you’re doing something wrong. Even worse, when characters like McMahon start realising they’re wrong the film fades badly. The descent isn’t graceful or humorous, it’s plain sad.

Nothing irritated me more than the narration. Scoot McNairy is our guide, as Rolling Stone journo Sean Cullen. He isn’t revealed till the midway point before disappearing back into the offscreen abyss. His role is completely and utterly unnecessary. Other cast members seem like baggage too – Emory Cohen’s pseudo-butler Willy and Anthony Hayes’s madman Duckman are one-scene gags. Ben Kingsley’s brilliant Hamid Karzai impersonation is the only consolation, his Chaplin-esque hijinks mildly under par to Pitt’s McMahon.

Diluted script aside, War Machine‘s core satirical ethos gets the hole-in-one it needs. War + stereotypes = failure. Bar one thing: the Taliban. The Taliban, if anything, seem even more alien than McMahon & co, blending into the Afghan chaos with ease. It’s a fair point to make – the Taliban were no pushovers – but why submit our ‘heroes’ to an impenetrable wall? It’s a foregone conclusion from the start of the film. War Machine tries to be a satire that gets philosophical and says ‘Actually, LIFE is a satire’ – problem is, we already knew that.

Ultimately, War Machine sits on the fence between heavyhitter and satire. A deadpan drama, if you will. There’s some laughs, some tough moments to chew, lots of Brad Pitt and you’ll be left feeling a little empty. So it’s okay, I guess (note the lack of sarcasm).

Film as a Film – 2 / Target Audience – 3 / General Audience – 3

GRADE

B-

CLICK HERE FOR THE TRAILER

War Machine is available on Netflix

For more film & music gossip follow @THEMOVIEGUVNOR on Twitter. Harry also writes for The Huffington Post.

For more information about the rating system, click here.

MAIN PICTURE:

By Source, fair use via Wikipedia.

The poster art copyright is believed to belong to the distributor of the film, the publisher of the film or the graphic artist.

 

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