War Machine is a biting satire about the U.S. war in Afghanistan. It's a voyage into the absurd that encapsulates the insanity of never ending armed conflict. Adapted from the highly acclaimed novel, The Operators by Michael Hastings, War Machine is the tale of four star General Glenn McMahon. The character is based on General Stanley McChrystal, whose arrogance and hubris led to an epic downfall. Director/writer David Michod gets top marks for humor and stark realism. War is hell. The film takes aim in a comedic way, but never loses sight of the brutality.
In April of 2010, President Barack Obama was making a beeline out of Iraq; with the war in Afghanistan devolving after years of quagmire. Insert the hardline, true believer, military man to the bone, General Glen McMahon (Brad Pitt). The Special Forces leader in Iraq, and an expert in counter insurgency tactics, McMahon is given command of all coalition troops in Afghanistan. He's got a dedicated staff (Anthony Michael Hall, Emory Cohen, Anthony Hayes) and civilian publicist (Topher Grace) that cater to his every whim. They are a patriarchal unit with supreme confidence in the general's abilities.
McMahon hits the ground running to assess the situation. His cross country meetings with decimated civilians and battle weary troops leads to a distinctly unpopular conclusion. McMahon's request to escalate the war lands with a thud. His civilian masters in Washington D.C. aren't having it. When the desk jockeys and bean counters don't play ball, McMahon and crew embark on a whirlwind tour to win support of the allies. They bring along a reporter from Rolling Stone, Sean Cullen (Scoot McNairy), to document the general's efforts.
The film is narrated by Cullen with extensive voice-overs throughout. He introduces each character, sets up events, then comments as the disaster unfolds before him. McMahon and his men were so conceited, they acted foolishly in front of a journalist who had no loyalty to them. He accurately depicted their actions and the folly of the entire war strategy.
Brad Pitt's performance is a caricature of McChrystal. His left eye in a permanent squint and right arm hooked like a crab claw, the character looks buffoonish. This is all overdone on purpose to make a barbed point. Supreme belief in one's own virtues and views inevitably leads to failure. The men in the film have good intentions, but are equally responsible for the constant churn of war. They are integral to the sausage. Cranking out the unceasing military industrial complex.
The events in War Machine took place seven years ago. The war in Afghanistan is in its sixteenth year. It is the longest conflict in U.S. history with no end in sight. Trillions of dollars spent, hundreds of thousands killed, and it rarely registers a blip on the evening news anymore. The war has become the norm, achieving a permanent state in American society. From Netflix, War Machine refocuses the spotlight on the carnage. It is a worthy two hours this Memorial Day to remind those we don't have loved ones at risk in Afghanistan.