With President Donald Trump traveling in the Middle East and talking his hopes for peace, Netflix couldn’t have strategized a better time to debut its Brad Pitt-starring military satire War Machine. Unfortunately, despite a few good swings from Pitt, the May 26-launching film from director David Michôd is a mind-numbing misfire.
As we did back in March for a review of Netflix’s docuseries Five Came Back, my colleague and TV Talk podcast partner Pete Hammond and I have temporally traded critics hats here. And in many ways, War Machine’s look at America’s now-16-year effort in Afghanistan and the brass than have tried to run it could have used a trade or two itself — or at least something to get it running.
Based in part on now-deceased Michael Hastings’ 2012 bestseller The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War In Afghanistan and his probing 2010 Rolling Stone piece “The Runaway General” about loose-lipped Gen. Stanley McChrystal (who was soon afterwards pink-slipped by then-President Barack Obama for bad mouthing him and VP Joe Biden), War Machine is a series of tepid setups, missed opportunities and wasted talent.
As fictional Gen. Glen McMahon, the real waste is Pitt, even in a cast that also fleetingly consists of Tilda Swinton, Griffin Dunne, Topher Grace, Halt and Catch Fire’s Scoot McNairy, Meg Tilly, Atlanta‘s Lakeith Stanfield, Alan Ruck, Ben Kingsley as hapless then-Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and Anthony Michael Hall as now-fired Trump National Security Advisor and former McChrystal aide Michael Flynn.
A very solid actor, especially in comedy and satire, Pitt appears to be trying to squeeze the best he can out of the pic co-produced by his Plan B shingle. But there just isn’t any juice, and it becomes apparent from the montage backstory and voiceover-heavy introduction that this is a film they tried to save in the edit suite.
Put it this way: When the most consistently good thing about your movie is the Nick Cave and Warren Ellis score and some Jon Spencer Blues Explosion on the soundtrack, you have great music but a narrative problem. When the height of drama is how they will pull off Pitt’s puffed-up and soon-deflated McMahon getting a quick handshake from Obama before POTUS blows him off to jump onto Air Force One, you have a bigger problem.
Check out my video review of War Machine above and tell us whether you be watching May 26.