Brad Pitt is a powerhouse actor who can elevate any film. Unfortunately, War Machine, a black comedy written and directed by David Michod (Animal Kingdom), isn’t one of them. Michod adapted his script from Michael Hastings’ The Operators, a nonfiction book that recounted the Rolling Stone profile of Gen. Stanley McChrystal that ultimately led to his downfall.
War Machine is a bit of a minefield for writer-director David Michod, whose sharp, punchy Australian thrillers like Animal Kingdom and The Rover don’t flinch when their invented characters run aground on real people. But Michod’s film, based on Michael Hastings’ book The Operators, seems to be tiptoeing through a minefield of its own. It’s a satire, but a dour one that puts military policy in the context of political overreach and oversight.
Brad Pitt, with his bluff exterior and macho nicknames, strides into the role of Gen. Glen McMahon with a gust of masculine self-assurance. But his grotesque facial tics and deadpan delivery suggest that he’s not in the least comfortable with the movie’s tone. When he does finally start to loosen up, it’s too late for the movie, which is at best a mildly entertaining satire. At worst, it’s a painfully clumsy flop. It’s the kind of satire that wants to be funny but ends up eliciting only groans and eye-rolling.
Director David Michod, who made cult films like “Casino” and “Goodfellas,” has fashioned a brisk, involving drama out of the real-life firing of Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal over his Afghanistan policy. Its story rebuts the old adage that war is a dirty business. The pelispedia film’s stars — including Brad Pitt as McChrystal, Emory Cohen as his abrasive deputy, Anthony Michael Hall as his fireplug, Topher Grace as a glib fixer and Ben Kingsley as a hammy Afghan leader — make it work.
But the movie also has its flaws. Its deadpan tone sometimes feels a bit flat and overblown, while its attempts at satire — especially the trickery in which Obama (played by Scoot McNairy) meets with McChrystal on Air Force One — fall flat and ring hollow. Nevertheless, Michod’s film eventually clicks into place and delivers its ruthless critique of American hubris. Its most striking moment comes during a tense shootout that clarifies the disconnect between boardroom spats and lives at risk.
It’s a Comedy
In the hands of a more talented screenwriter, War Machine could have been a sharp, dark comedy – a sort of Dr. Strangelove meets Charlie Wilson’s War with a few somber moments of truth mixed in with the goofy satire. Instead, it falls short of the mark and is largely a bore. Brad Pitt delivers a hammy performance and the movie struggles to find its tone, shifting between broad doomsday satire and a searing critique of institutional failure.
Michod, who co-wrote the screenplay with David Ayer, borrows from Michael Hastings’ nonfiction account of Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s ill-fated campaign in Afghanistan, but his characters never rise above caricature. It’s a shame because the film is peppered with fine performances from the likes of Tilda Swinton, Emory Cohen, RJ Cyler, Ben Kingsley and Alan Ruck. But they’re sunk by the movie’s clattering apparatus, which lacks dramatic momentum. The whole thing feels like a filmed dress rehearsal.
As a character study, War Machine Movie Review is fascinating, even if the movie doesn’t always hit its marks. Michod’s satirical intentions call for the quick-fire cynicism of Armando Iannucci’s “Veep” or the gonzo iconoclasm of David O Russell’s “Three Kings.” The movie doesn’t quite reach those heights, but there are enough laughs to keep it from being completely forgettable.