War Machine - 2017
War Machine is technically classified as a satirical war film, based on a nonfiction book The Operators that recounts the early days of the Afghanistan war during Obama’s first term. I say “technically” because it jumps from being a satirical to character study to war to drama, without never planting its roots on any of the genres. The movie centers around four-star general Glen McMahon, played by Brad Pitt, as he is hired to bring the Afghanistan war to an end.
Brad Pitt took bold, calculated choices when playing this character, and for the most part it works within this movie. He tip-toes the line between making his character have depth and making his character look like a caricature, something he effectively pulled off in 12 Monkeys. Pitt walked with almost a limp, had his jaw pushed forward, his right eye closed with his left eye wide open, talked in his gravely deep voice and ran with his arms completely stiff in place. All those choices would seem hard to keep track of when filming and they proved to be since they seem to come and go depending on the scene. There are multiple scenes where his eyes are fine or where his limp is completely gone. The only quirk that is 100% consistent is his running and they are my favorite scenes as he explores his base and surroundings during his morning runs. Overall Pitt performance was one of the aspects that kept my interest active enough for me to keep watching this movie, despite his inconsistencies.
War Machine also benefits from two smaller roles being performed to their fullest. The first role is Anthony Michael Hall playing Pitt’s right-hand man who has anger issues. Despite having to play a one-note character, the one that always has a small fuse ready to explode… you know a Russell Crowe type…, Hall made me laugh multiple times. The second role is Sir Ben Kingsley as President Karzai. His scene with Pitt is one of the very few that can be described as a full satirical take of events that probably happened. Kingsley’s line delivery was as if he read the line in his head and then he conveyed it to the camera. Having almost a half second delay from his eyes knowing the answer to his mouth delivering it to the audience. It’s been a while since I fully enjoyed a Kingsley performance and even though it was almost a cameo, I was happy to see him deliver again.
War Machine overall was frustrating both in tone and in subject. It felt like it had a great base for a movie if they had chosen a genre and stuck to it. I found myself going from laughing to just staring at the screen frustrated at the drastic shift to a dramatic element. There is an overuse of voice-over narration, that goes to the point where you feel that somebody is LITERALLY telling you the story instead of you watching it unfold. This could be a pet-peeve of mine, but overusing voice-over has always been a turn-off for me.
The final sequence was a great tense sequence of war and its consequences, but it felt out of place thanks to the first two acts of the movie. It may had been the overall intent of the filmmakers, to make a confusing and frustrating movie, because that’s the general feeling the soldiers had during the transition period going from Bush to Obama, but it just made for an uneven and uncompelling story structure that takes you out of the experience.
War Machine is an inconsistent fictional retelling of a nonfictional book that had a riveting and compelling story buried somewhere in there. I love what Netflix is doing with independent movies (War Machine doesn’t count as an independent movie) and I hope this stumble doesn’t hurt them in that market. Brad Pitt running with his arms completely stiff is why I love movies.
War Machine is currently streaming on Netflix. I would skip it and go for a run instead.
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