At its heart, War Machine is a political satire, entwined with a dark comedic centre. It doesn’t always hit and some of the more action-orientated scenes feel at odds with the film’s hopeless tone of one man trying to change the impossible war in Arghanistan in America’s favour. When the film is poking fun at itself and asking questions about what the point of the war is, it really shines. The parallel story of stopping counter-insurgency in Afghanistan is arguably where the film is at its weakest though and for that reason, War Machine feels like a film at war with itself.
The story follows General McMahon (Brad Pitt) who rises to the forefront of the war in Afghanistan with one simple task – translate his impeccable record in the army to stopping the war in Afghanistan by any means necessarily without expending the US government’s budget while in control of NATO forces. A task which is made all the more difficult by reluctant locals and a reporter for Rolling Stones who’s intent on exposing the faults of the war and General McMahon himself. The story brutally portrays just how pointless the whole exercise the Afghanistan war is and it does make for a fascinating watch as McMahon defiantly ignores the odds and dives head first to try and resolve the issues with the country. Despite how hopeless it feels, we still feel like he’s the man for the job as he airs an arrogant confidence and gets stuck in with the job at hand.
Brad Pitt does a pretty good job portraying the General in over his head as well and for the first hour or so of the film, he seems to be doing good work building relations. Once accustomed to his accent (which sounds like Vince McMahon’s gruff tone from the world of WWE) he comes across as a man of self confidence but also a man desperate to stay relevant in the real world which isn’t as black and white as the army. When he starts to drown in the chaos surrounding him is when the film actually becomes more intriguing and watchable. The deliciously dark comedic tone served throughout the film is used to great effect and isn’t overdone, highlighting how fruitless the whole endeavor is. Further accentuated in a late exchange between German Ambassador (Tilda Swinton) and the General, its here that he finally realizes just what an uphill battle the whole thing is and comes crashing back down to Earth.
War Machine is a good political drama and it does have some legitimately funny scenes. The climax, despite an action-soaked shootout that feels jarring compared to the rest of the film, is actually very good and the narrative voice-over manages to excellently convey an overall assessment of the war. The film does tend to push the message of “War is bad” a little too much but it doesn’t detract that much from the enjoyment. Despite War Machine’s best efforts, it never quite raises above the point of mediocity but props to the filmmakers for trying something new in a bloated genre, its humour does work at times and its social commentary on the Middle Eastern war is intriguing. Despite all this, the juxtaposed story about counter insurgency feels at odds with the political drama the film’s foundations are based on so it never comes across as anything more than a film at war with itself.