Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Review: "War Machine" coasts on Brad Pitt, brings little to the war room.

War Machine Review

When I first heard about "War Machine," it quickly became one of my most anticipated movies of the year. Brad Pitt, starring and producing in a war satire for Netflix. With a near all-star cast at his back. What could possibly go wrong? Now, I am sitting on the other side, in complete denial that I didn't love it.

Is "War Machine" any good? Yes, its a movie that is built on moments. There are several well done scenes throughout the movie, its just a shame that none of those moments really connect to each other. The cast, which includes Sir Ben Kingsley, Tilda Swinton, Will Poulter, Anthony Michael Hall, Alan Ruck, Keith Stanfield, John Magaro (who Pitt worked with on "The Big Short) and Scoot McNairy. That's a damn fine cast, and as expected, they all do good work here. There is even a small Russell Crowe cameo if you are really paying attention. There is no fault in the cast, except for one which I will get to in just a minute here. The movie looks good in high definition, but really that's where my praises stop. Should we only watch movies for their moments? Am I to advice my readers to just skip around to the good parts and forget the rest of the movie? Does that make a movie good or bad?

The biggest disappointment is Brad Pitt himself. His mannerisms, the way he curls one eye while keeping the other wide open, the way he talks in the movie...he literally acts like he came off the stage of "Inglorious Basterds" and walked right into the shoes of General McMahon. General McMahon is the lead character in "War Machine," a highly decorated general who has been brought to Afganistan somewhere around 2009-2010 to deal with the War In Afghanistan. Brad Pitt is such a great actor, one of the most influential of his generation. So why would he want to reimage and regurgitate a character he already created? Pitt's fake accent this time around is grueling to listen to, the faces he makes are easy to laugh at. This is a highly decorated general, and he treats it like a big joke.

 The big strategy McMahon brings to the table in Afghanistan is counter insurgency, which is beaten over our heads in one of many voice-over narration scenes. Seriously, there is so much that is told to the audience instead of shown to the audience, that it all begins to feel quite arbitrary. Entire things are said, instead of us feeling the moments and the material. Then, in about the middle of the movie, the narration stop. I sat there wondering to myself, what was the point of the narration at all? Its so distracting, and it feels like the filmmakers eventually got wind of this themselves. But they were also too lazy to do much about it, so they allow it to happen for the first half of the movie, then pretend for the last half that it didn't exist. Its a bizarre editing choice to make, and one that definitely left me cold.

I am starting to notice something inside myself. I am starting to notice that war satires are incredibly hard to pull off. Its incredibly clear to me that is been a long time since "Dr. Strangelove," and nobody knows how to properly make the next big thing for this sub-genre. Especially when those war satires are taking place in the Middle East, and that its tough to know who to laugh at because our enemies are not clear cut. Its confusing over there, and there is no clear "villain," which makes the humor difficult to achieve in "War Machine." Maybe also my feelings have to do with writing this on the end of Memorial Day, which is when we give thanks to all the men and women who gave their lives so I could write the words are reading right now. You as a filmmaker either have to commit to the satire or tell a serious story about war.

Tonally, "War Machine" is all over the place. Its a movie that wants it both ways. It wants to be slapstick funny at moments, but then also tell a brutal portrait of life, fighting, and the confusion coming from the Middle East right now. The sudden shifts in tone and the lack of identity makes "War Machine" hard for me to sit through. I am not sure whether or not I should feel something strong from the dramatic material or if I should be laughing. Although most of the humor is throwaway material that wouldn't make a third grader snicker. I just wish this movie had an idea of what it wanted to be, instead of taking two things and throwing them into a blender. 

In the end, "War Machine" is a slog to sit through, mostly uninteresting with a disappointing lead. Too bad, I had big hopes for this one.

FINAL GRADE: C-

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