Netflix has every right to be called the king of streaming services, but when it comes to original films, they can certainly be hit or miss. For every Beasts of No Nation or 13th, you get The Do-Over or The Ridiculous Six. So, when they start to get aggressive, snapping up huge names like Martin Scorsese, Will Smith, David Ayer and Bong Joon-Ho to create original content, people start to take notice and wonder if they have the clout to play with the major studios in the world.
Enter Brad Pitt’s War Machine, a hotly anticipated Netflix original film surrounding the fictionalised version of a true story set out in Michael Hasting’s book The Operators. Pitt plays General Glen McMahon (inspired by real-life former General Stanley McChrystal), coming off a successful stint the second Gulf War in Iraq. Despite not agreeing with the orders of the President as to the goal of his mission, McMahon is put in charge of operations in Afghanistan. This leads to some very questionable strategies being employed by McMahon, both on and off the battlefield, to win what many viewed as an unwinnable war.
While there are some points of brilliance (both with the film and with Pitt’s performance), ultimately this film lacks an identity. It starts as a biting satire of the USA’s hubris when it comes to war, trying to reach for the heights of Dr. Strangelove or Wag the Dog in its presentation of the facts with subtle humour sprinkled in. It then falls into a character study of the man who embodies that hubris and his rise and fall due to the “yes” men and the culture he created. And finally, we wrap up with an extremely tense extended battle scene that just leaves Pitt off-screen entirely, dealing with aspects of war that are, quite frankly, not funny. These subjects could have made for a great film, if one tone was chosen throughout, but layering all three within the same film returns a disjointed mess.
Pitt’s performance is great for the film that he wants to be in (or at least it seems, for the film he thought he was making). His mixture of Aldo Rain and General Patton does provide some humour early on, when the humour is worth having, but the times for humour are few and far between! This is extremely prevalent during deep character moments, like a dinner with his wife or being confronted by a German politician; attempts at humour suck the necessary emotion right out of the scene.
It’s unfortunate to say, but Australian David Michôd was not the correct director for this. More known for hard-hitting dramas like The Rover or the fantastic crime film Animal Kingdom, Michôd cannot seem to handle the tone of what he is trying to portray, and it’s incredibly obvious as what we’re left with is extremely messy in execution.
While it’s nice to see Netflix aggressively pursue quality filmmakers and actors for their original content, it’s just a shame that a story with such potential was handled so poorly. Between the caricature presented onscreen and the hokey, uneven script, it almost feels like it’s one Kevin James cameo away from being a Happy Madison production.
Now I am a little worried about Bong Joon-Ho’s Okja…
THE REEL SCORE: 3/10