War Machine

Review by William Carroll

Directed by

David Michôd

Starring

Anthony Hayes Brad Pitt John Magaro

Anticipation.

Animal Kingdom and The Rover both showcased a director with huge talent.

Enjoyment.

The cogs are a little rusty here.

In Retrospect.

An uneven satire boosted by a larger-than-life performance from Brad Pitt.

David Michôd and Brad Pitt serve up a fascinating but uneven satire of America’s military might.

Satirising American militarism has almost become a national pastime, and nowhere is this more apparent than cinema. Picking apart the hubris of past administrations and holding them accountable has been the objective of everyone from Stanley Kubrick to Matt Stone and Trey Parker, with films like Full Metal Jacket and Team America: World Police taking aim at American foreign policy.

David Michôd’s new film, War Machine, a Netflix Original with Brad Pitt in the lead, continues this tradition while marking a shift in tone from the writer/director’s previous features, Animal Kingdom and The Rover. In examining the complex and often calamitous War in Afghanistan, Michôd doesn’t shy away from this particular thorn in America’s side but instead grabs it with his teeth and pulls it clean out.

Following the fall from grace of Gen Glen McMahon (the fictional counterpart of Gen Stanley McChrystal, played by Pitt), War Machine details the unyielding belief among successive administrations that the so-called War on Terror could be won, despite all evidence to the contrary. McMahon is sent to Afghanistan, with an entourage of loyal advisors and officers in tow, to stick a proverbial cherry bomb up the stationed regiment’s rear end. “Let’s go win this thing,” he declares early on. The hearts and minds of the Afghani people are not his to be won, however, a fact which Michôd swiftly brings to the fore. Such is the blind hypocrisy of American foreign politics, the only thing McMahon advances is the nagging feeling that his best years are behind him.

McMahon is a simple man who believes in simple things. He believes in the importance of running seven miles each day. He believes in his uniform and the code of honour it represents. He believes in humility, but also in keeping the four stars on his shoulders visible at all times. Most importantly, however, he believes that America can win this war. The reality is that men like Glen McMahon often seize their opportunity for glory at the detriment of the wider cause. War Machine takes this enduring military figure and emphasises just how damaging ego can be.

Pitt gives a singular performance here, never dropping the grimace on his face or losing his strange walk-jog gait. Through all his mannered bravado, though, Pitt struggles to bring out the nuanced anxiety of a man who’s eyeing failure and refusing to blink. It’s Meg Tilly as McMahon’s wife Jeannie, a woman he has been married to for 30 years but rarely sees, who ultimately exposes the cracks in her husbands’s all-American exterior.

Other cameo roles include Ben Kingsley as President Hamid Karzai, a man introduced struggling to set up a Blu-ray player and later seen in hysterics watching Dumb and Dumber. Tilda Swinton appears briefly as a German bureaucrat, and it is she who best vocalises the film’s central message: “General, you have a fetish for completion. To make your moment glorious.”

American journalist and historian David Halberstam famously put forward his ‘quagmire theory’ at the height of the Vietnam War, suggesting that each subsequent administration could only sink deeper into the metaphorical mire. Michôd’s film transposes this theory onto the Middle-Eastern conflict, placing McMahon as the lone sinking ship upon its strange tide. It’s an interesting perspective on America’s military presence overseas, but far from a perfect satire.

Published 26 May 2017

Anticipation.

Animal Kingdom and The Rover both showcased a director with huge talent.

Enjoyment.

The cogs are a little rusty here.

In Retrospect.

An uneven satire boosted by a larger-than-life performance from Brad Pitt.

Read More

Animal Kingdom

By Jason Wood

David Michôd doesn’t put a foot wrong. The writing, direction and performances are first-rate.

review LWLies Recommends

David Michôd: ‘When your leaders lie to you all the time, you stop believing anything’

By Manuela Lazic

The Australian writer/director sounds off about his spiky military satire, War Machine.

The Rover

By David Jenkins

David Michôd emerges from the lion’s den and leaps directly into the furnace for his brilliant second feature.

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