War Machine Review
War Machine (2017) Film Review, a movie directed by David Michôd, and starring Brad Pitt, Emory Cohen, RJ Cyler, Topher Grace, Anthony Michael Hall, Anthony Hayes, John Magaro, Scoot McNairy, Will Poulter, Alan Ruck, Lakeith Stanfield, Josh Stewart, Meg Tilly, Tilda Swinton, and Ben Kingsley.
War Machine‘s advertising was a con job like the advertising for Quentin Tarantino‘s Inglourious Basterds. The viewer thought they were a going to see an irreverent comedy with War Machine but instead were given a serious war film that was littered with comedic moments and happenstance. The viewer underwent a perceptual change from the world War Machine‘s promos had created to the actual film that unfolded before their eyes.
Since this con job was a positive shift in tone, it didn’t effect how one saw War Machine in the slightest. On the contrary, the viewer was pleasantly surprised by what was found – good intentions met by an unwinnable situation in an active war theater.
From the outset, War Machine strongly built its lead characters, none more so than four-star General Glen McMahon (Brad Pitt). His daily exercise regime, quirks, and mannerisms (e.g. the unusual way that he ran) draw him pretty quickly as the film began but it was his interactions with other characters, people that were for his eventual mission and against it, that complicated Pitt’s character and made General McMahon a multi-faceted individual.
General McMahon had more comradeship with his staff than he did with his wife Jeanie McMahon (Meg Tilly). Glen and Jeanie had nothing to talk about outside of banalities. They were in two completely different worlds and the bridge between them was flimsy and seldom trodden. When General McMahon felt bad about how little time he had spent with his wife in the last ten years, the viewer saw “Big Glen”‘s underbelly and the feelings behind his every present, confident bravado. The McMahon anniversary dinner scene was a relationship nuance scene where Jeanie honestly stated the obvious and Pitt successfully emoted regret and sorrow.
This situation went to Glen’s mindset: He was as out of touch with the state of his own marriage as he was with the situation in Afghanistan. Both were tittering yet he saw the situations as winnable. For numerous reasons, Glen reality deficiency with Afghanistan was the most egregious of the two. It could and did lead to a catastrophe – the loss of innocent civilian lives. It turned American soldiers looking for clear direction, so that they could effectively do their jobs, into the instruments of civilian causalities.
At the beginning of War Machine, the viewer wondered why Tilda Swinton, who had lead roles in Doctor Strange and Okja, would take a single scene, bit role in this war drama. By the end of her character’s scene in War Machine, the viewer knew why. Swinton’s German Politician hammered General McMahon, again and again, with the undeniable and the verifiable. The shaky ground that General McMahon had been standing on disintegrated in a small, perceptual way as he stood on-stage following the German Politician’s last statement about him and his military assessment of the Afghanistan situation.
When confronted with facts and technical truths, General McMahon had few answers outside of (a paraphrase): “I have been all over Afghanistan. I know these people, their situations, and the lives they lead better than you.”
It was like the General was saying “I know I’m right because I’m right.” General McMahon’s retort and body language rang in-confident and unsure to everyone in the room that was not blinded by affection and affiliation with the General. Perhaps the quality of his retort and its delivery got through some of those obfuscating layers in the General’s cadre as well.
It certainly got through to Rolling Stones reporter Sean Cullen (Scoot McNairy), whose presence around General McMahon and his staff was baffling from the start. Why did civilian press adviser Matt Little (Topher Grace) allow a Rolling Stones reporter to follow them around Europe? Why did General McMahon let Cullen see his men drinking to the point of becoming fall-down drunk? Even Cullen asked himself this question during War Machine. General McMahon didn’t. General McMahon’s staff didn’t. General McMahon’s communications / PR people should have known better, especially if they considered the personality of their client and those of his personnel.
Like Sean Cullen said of General McMahon in War Machine, it was hubris, but it wasn’t just the hubris of McMahon. It was the hubris of McMahon’s entire staff. They all thought they were bulletproof, untouchable, and somehow removed from scrutiny that could negatively affect their assignment. They were all blithely unaware, until it was too late, that they had brought that very scrutiny into their mists by inviting Cullen to follow them around Europe.
That scrutiny and examination of hubris did not stop with General McMahon and his staff in War Machine. It extended to the military strategy of counterinsurgency and all of its short comings. Those short comings were exasperated by General McMahon’s lack of reality regarding the people of Afghanistan. It was as if McMahon existed in his own reality and the people of Afghanistan existed in another. This situation led to more dramatic moments in War Machine than to those of levity.
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