By far the starriest of Netflix’s self-built movies so far – as well as megastar Brad Pitt, the cast includes Ben Kingsley, Tilda Swinton and Will Poulter – War Machine is a satirical jab at the United States’ disastrous approach to creating peace in Afghanistan.
Pitt plays General Glen McMahon, based on real-life controversial loudmouth General Stanley McChrystal. McMahon is beloved by his men, in whose isolated military world he is king, and respected by US government bigwigs who entrust him with ending the Afghan war. It’s a task that seems impossible, but McMahon believes every war can be won.
In Afghanistan, though, battle is a nebulous thing. There’s little organised military to engage with, instead pockets of insurgents – and every US military action appears to create more complexities. As McMahon’s methods become more costly and erratic, and his doubters become more vocal, his team makes the immense mistake of inviting a Rolling Stone reporter to profile McMahon. The last thing his operation needs is media scrutiny.
The witty, intelligent script by writer-director David Michôd (Animal Kingdom, The Rover) does a confident job of making sense of a senseless situation. His lead, however, is confused and even more confusing. Pitt, now 53, gives a performance that shows a desire to shift into ‘character actor’ territory, where you look less handsome but play juicier parts. He gives McMahon an excess of character. His performance is
a lot. He does a funny voice, holds his hand in a claw and pulls a gurning face at all times. It’s too much, and stands out too vividly against everything else. Like McMahon, Pitt’s a talented man, but he’s trying to make the world bend to fit him.