As Obama announces the upcoming withdrawal of troops, General Glen McMahon (Pitt) laments eight years wasted on a losing battle. You can sympathise; War Machine is only two hours, but almost every minute is useless.
Ostensibly a satire (it isn’t), the film possesses no discernible tone as David Michôd bolts together static shots and non-jokes in a kind of arrhythmic trance. This is a deeply uncharismatic film in both direction and script – Michôd appears to have half-watched two episodes of Veep, created a 120-page draft in inspiration, and used that.
Blame also lies with the producers for allowing the writer-director to plough ahead with such a half-formed project. One of these producers, of course, is also the star – and while Pitt improves immeasurably after the first half-hour and gives War Machine its bite (such as it is, with Michôd still asleep), it’s amazing that his broad energy couldn’t inspire the rest; rendering the performance jarringly out-of-place.
Pitt often shows good judgment – remember The Big Short? Michôd tries to ape it throughout, but makes the fatal mistake of asking Scoot McNairy, a dangerously naturalistic presence, to provide the lumpen voiceover. The result is beyond soporific, and speaks again to that wider problem: the satire just flatlines. There is no lampooning, no demonstration of the war’s stupidity – just characters occasionally stating the themes, and the futility, and the hubris, which is so dramatically uninteresting one begins to wonder if Michôd really understands his subject, or has just transcribed the Sparknotes guide.
Underusing countless charismatic performers in his ragtag bunch of what one assumes should be colourful characters, Michôd hasn’t created a satisfying film so much as a series of impressively lifeless scenes. The first good joke comes at the end; amazingly, The Hurt Locker was funnier and The Big Short more gripping.
CAST: Brad Pitt, Scoot McNairy, Emory Cohen, R.J. Cyler, Anthony Michael Hall, Topher Grace, Will Poulter
DIRECTOR: David Michôd
WRITERS: David Michôd (screenplay), Michael Hastings (The Operators)
SYNOPSIS: An absurdist true-life account of one US General (Pitt) gunning blindly for success in Afghanistan near the end of the Iraq War.