War Machine – Review

Well now here’s an interesting turn of events. I know I mentioned Xenomorphology 101 some time back, but unlike my empty promises of Hacksaw Ridge and some other films that I’ve since forgotten about entirely, the article is going to see the light of day. Just not now. Alien: Covenant is too far back for me to publish an article on the subject, so I am hereby shelving Xenomorphology 101 until the next round of face-huggers start lining up to french some unsuspecting sweaty people. Instead, this weeks review comes in the form of War Machine, a Netflix Original title which in a very rare instance actually is an original and not just another Marvel series or adaptation of an obscure British drama from the 1990’s (I’m talking about you, House Of Cards).

War Machine is breaking some fairly new ground in terms of its subject matter, for it’s a satirical film set during the recent war in Afghanistan and is a fictionalised adaptation of The Operators, the author’s account of his travels with General Stanley McChrystal. Obviously satirising the actual general whilst the war is still ongoing would be far too close to the bone by American standards, so instead we are treated to General Glen McMahon, a lolloping, squinting, gruff-voiced gibbon in uniform played by Brad Pitt. This is one of Pitt’s more ridiculous roles of late, with a lot of physical comedy to compliment the loveable stupidity of his character, and he’s accompanied by an equally moronic cavalcade of aides and staff officers including one played by Anthony Michael Hall. Yes! The Brain from The Breakfast Club got cast as a foul-mouthed belligerent adaptation of Michael Flynn, and what’s scarier is that I only found this out after watching the movie. Oh and Topher Grace is in there as well. Christ knows why, as he barely seems to do anything. I’m guessing the casting director just felt sorry for the man. Speaking of which, for a Netflix bit, War Machine has some bloody big names attached to it. If Brad Pitt wasn’t enough, you’ve got Ben Kingsley as former Afghan president Hamid Karzai in a display of onscreen lunacy which is almost a little too funny, and makes you wonder just how much fiction is on display, and Tilda Swinton rocks up as well as an unnamed German politician who questions everything that McMahon is trying to accomplish.

All in all, whilst the satire of War Machine is refreshingly cutting, it does walk the line between goofy and profound rather unevenly, and I feel that more could have been done to make the poignancy stand out without narration. That being said, the narration does effectively set the tone very well, with my favourite line being “you can’t build a nation at gunpoint”, and it captures the blurred line between the war being fought on the ground and the political manoeuvres behind it very well, to an almost Clausewitzian degree. It wouldn’t surprise me if this film became subject for a university seminar a few years down the line, because it is a fascinating subject which hasn’t really been touched on to any intelligent degree. For a war film, there is only one scene of honest combat, and it’s filmed brilliantly, with tense and confusing action in which the enemy is as unseen and vague as they would’ve been in reality. The film ends having answered very few questions, but these questions were already whilst the war was being fought, and the pointlessness of the whole thing is captured brilliantly with an excellent uncredited cameo, who is designed to be this film’s David Petraeus.

I close this review citing War Machine as one of the more intelligent pieces of modern war cinema I have watched in some time, and would highly recommend it to anybody with an interest in the military or political consequences of the War On Terror. It’s a bit silly at times, but it’s far better than whatever the hell Bluestone 42 was trying to be, which to my mind was a cross between Green Wing and The Hurt Locker. One could argue that it’s perhaps a little too late for a satire on this subject to really make an impact, and whilst I would agree, it does not detract from the quality of the film at all. Watch this film with a notebook and pen to hand, then take what notes you’ve written to your next political argument in the pub, because War Machine will equip you well for it.

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