Sunday, 24 December 2017

War Machine (2017) - Movie Review
The plot: With the U.S. government really wanting to put an end to their military campaign in Afghanistan, they send in renowned general Glen McMahon (Brad Pitt) to lead the charge and, more importantly, prepare an assessment on how to resolve the matter. However, it seems that McMahon doesn’t want the troops to leave before the job is done, and so sets out to “win” the War On Terror. Everyone outside of his main platoon look at him aghast that a single person can get so much wrong in so little time.

Brad Pitt is in full Inglorious Basterds mode again, exuding unwarranted authority with every movement he makes, and that gloriously Murrican! accent makes his mock humility sound even more biting. Anthony Michael Hall as Maj. Gen. Pulver is the best performance he’s given in years, taking a very anger-prone officer and turning him into a living volcano, tearing down anyone and everyone who dares question his beloved general. Scoot McNairy handles his very dry dialogue expertly as a Rolling Stone journalist writing about McMahon, and his prevalent narration adds the perfect layer of snark to the proceedings. Ben Kingsley as the Afghan president Hamid Karzai is quite entertaining, whether he’s wrestling with a Blu-Ray player or project-sneezing a tissue out of his nose (yeah, it’s weird but it still fits), Tilda Swinton as a German official nails the film’s defining moment of mid-war clarity, and Lakeith Stanfield as a Marine station in Afghanistan is excellent as the embodiment of how all this nonsense and lack-of-direction that affect the ground troops.

Satires on war can make for some truly amazing cinema… when done right. Luckily, it seems that we’re in the right hands with Australian filmmaker David Michôd; if you want something ripped to shreds on-screen, hire an Aussie. And sure enough, within moments of McNairy’s sardonic narration hitting our ears, the film’s goal is made clear. It’s one thing to just go ahead and say that the War On Terror didn’t turn out as the U.S. would have liked; it’s quite another to offer insight into why it didn’t turn out as planned.
To that end, we have General McMahon, a man who simply can’t take no for an answer. He’s brought in to try and wrap up the operation in Afghanistan… and yet, by trying to ”win” the war, he progressively manages to make things worse. He’s a beloved official, on good terms with his fellow officers, but his actions don’t seem to be the kind that would win friends on the battlefield. It’s genuinely fascinating to watch McMahon in action, put into an impossible situation by his superiors and somehow managing to completely miss the point of him being there in the first place.

The rest of the film? Not so much. When so much of the film is focused on McMahon fumbling his way through the war, the film starts to feel like it’s stuck in a feedback loop after a while. McMahon makes a decision, pretty much everyone outside of his main circle tells him it’s a bad idea, he does it anyway, things go bad, McMahon gets lectured with pretty much everything going over his head; lather, rinse, repeat. As biting as the dialogue can get, the whole ‘comedy of errors’ approach starts to lose steam once it kicks in that there’s really only one error at play here: McMahon himself. Part of this is likely due to the two-hour running time, as not everything here feels like it needed to stay here for that length. Like a number of the characters, come to think of it; as good as Pitt and Hall are in the main group, the others end up feeling like window-dressing. I won’t say I’m complaining that this film didn’t have more Topher Grace in it, since that guy has yet to make up for ruining Venom in Spider-Man 3, but I will complain that if these people are going to be here, shouldn’t they be doing something worth them being here?


People being in a situation that they shouldn’t be, and yet doing it anyway… okay, maybe there’s something more I can wring out of this effort at war satire. Even if it bleeds out into the cast and some of the narrative, the film has a certain Brazil-esque feel to it in how much of it is dedicated to making sure people do absolutely nothing in-universe, covered up by enough military jargon to drown several kittens. They are there to put on a good show and raise morale, but the higher-ups know that this operation is a complete disaster and are already preparing for the inevitable retreat. It seems that the only shock and awe they’re focusing on is that within their own government, given how ready for the fall everyone seems to be. And will always be, from the looks of it, since one of this film’s final codas is that, despite how all of this turned out, no-one seems to have learnt their lesson.
The U.S. would go on to continue making things worse in the Middle East, even though previous engagements in the region would go on to give rise to the Mujahideen, the Taliban, Al-Queda and even the so-called “Islamic State”. Hell, even beyond the Middle East, just look at the calamity that went down during the Vietnam War, which remains such an open wound that in 13 years of mainstream schooling, not once during classes on the war did anyone actually bring up that the U.S. retreated. Yeah, Australian schools, but we were involved in that conflict too; even we couldn’t accept it, and it's possibly one of the reasons why Michôd wanted to tell this story in the first place. The military inserts itself into conflicts, knowing that they’ll lose, which only go on to create more conflicts. Huh. It really is a war machine.

All in all, while it’s definitely cool to see an Aussie director helm this kind of production, with these names attached to it, it’s only just okay. The acting ranges from excellent to just average, the music relies more on licensed music than the score contributions of Nick friggin’ Cave and Warren friggin’ Ellis (dammit!), and while the writing can get rather monotonous, the points made about the American military method are quite resonant and the approach to satire is one of the more successful I’ve seen of late… even if that success means that even the people meant to be satirised like it. Eh, can’t win ‘em all, and if only McMahon and company could get that in their heads, maybe the U.S. would learn something from all this. The fact that this is all based on actual events, portrayed here through thin facsimiles, makes its statements and its ending note that much more depressing.

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