Review: Brad Pitt huffs and puffs his way through Netflix’s War Machine in a less than promising cinematic foray into the world of feature film from the on-demand global giant  

If War Machine was supposed to prove that Netflix can out-do the major big-screen theatrical releases, it failed. The whole film cavorts around striking the same level of tonal discomfort as Brad Pitt’s character appears to be in any time he walks anywhere.

Based on Michael Hasting’ The Operators and written and directed by David Michôd , Pitt plays US General Stanley McChrystal, brought in to tackle the war in Afghanistan. Eventually fired by President Obama for speaking critically to a Rolling Stones reporter about the route the then administration was taking, McChrystal commanded the NATO mission.

Not that you’d know that from the bombastic, anti-establishment gun-ho warrior Pitt seems to be channelling. This is a hyperbole of an army general, a man who is determined that he can win the war when his government wants to withdraw his troops, and at the same time a man who looks like he’s perpetually sucking on a lemon and has something permanently lodged up his rear end. Despite his seven mile run every morning, he apparently somehow finds time to smoke forty cigarettes a day between meeting with overly caricatured foreign leaders and diplomats that wouldn’t have been out of place in Sacha Baron Cohen’s The Dictator.

We’re introduced to our hero in a voiceover over that aims for The Wolf of Wall Street but limply fumbles at teen superhero film Kick Ass. The lengthy introduction to every character in the film takes up the first ten minutes, and we don’t even get to meet the body to whom the voice belongs it in that time. The continuing voiceover throughout the film abrades any sense of urgency, and adds a nostalgia that belonged in Forrest Gump and The Shawshank Redemption but here only chips away at any interest you may have had in the characters.

Billed as part reality, part parody, there’s an uneasy sense of balance throughout the film. Pitt comes in all guns blazing to a soundtrack that’s lifted from the likes of Tropic Thunder and Iron Man as the hero storms in confidently to take over form his limp predecessor. It’s no surprise that the film comes from the producers of The Big Short given the high-powered man on a mission bravado Pitt and his soundtrack employ. This mixes rather uncomfortably with Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ mellow yet absurdist score which, true to the duo, doesn’t fail.

The duo aren’t the only positive thing about the film. There is undoubtedly something enjoyable if cringeworthy about Pitt’s performance, even if he falls short of what he was going for, and it can’t be labelled boring. If you like a ball-busting hero, he’s your man. As long as you remember that this is a film that’s not meant to be taken seriously, it can be quite enjoyable, until you remember that it is based, somehow, on truth. If you’re after a more serious and less lopsided treatment of the war in Afghanistan, look elsewhere.

If this is a film that’s meant to make us think about war, it achieves little, largely because it hardly shows war in action at all. It addresses few of the very real scenarios soldiers faced in the Afghanistan or indeed any war, and continues to perpetrate the US strongman saving the world cliche whilst at the same time trying to satirise it. It’s never quite clear whether it’s a comedy, or if it’s just supposed to make the viewer feel awkward.

With a phenomenal cast including Pitt, who has previously played fantastic leaders in the artistic and bleak Fury, and Inglorious Basterds, Tilda Swinton and Ben Kingsley (who plays the Afghan president Hamid Karzai much like he played Trevor Slattery in Iron Man 3), it’s a shame that their characters weren’t allowed to develop the depth that their non-fiction counterparts undoubtedly had. Performances, allbeit apart from Pitt’s, are on the most part sound and fit the bill of a film that has not only two of the best musicians behind it, but also a company that has brought us phenomenal documentaries and series that have confounded the world. Yet in the vein of a parent whose child has thrown all their toys out of the pram, I’m not angry with the final result, I’m just disappointed.

“A film for our times” was the blurb for this film. If it meant confused, fragile and dispiriting, it hit the nail on the head. Let’s hope Netflix’s next trial Okja performs better.

Review: ★★☆☆☆