Political satire is tricky. If you approach your target too meekly, you run the risk of not leaving an impression. Hammer at that target too hard, though, and you can crush it beyond recognition. The new Netflix original, War Machine, takes the blunt hammer approach. It’s broad (sometimes cartoonishly so) and a bit all over the place, but it still manages to occasionally sting and leave a welt.
Inspired by a career-ending 2010 Rolling Stone profile of Gen. Stanley McChrystal during the Afghan war surge, the film operates from the pitch-black premise that not only is war hell, it’s utterly absurd. As the campaign against the Taliban is starting to look unwinnable, President Obama taps a battlefield veteran to turn it around. Enter Brad Pitt’s gruff, hard-charging pit bull, Gen. Glen McMahon. With his jaw jutted out, his voice a gravelly croak, and his bowlegged swagger, Pitt’s McMahon is a warrior in handcuffs.
The politicians in D.C. want him to clean up their mess but refuse to give him and his men (including Topher Grace’s glib PR smoothie and Anthony Michael Hall’s barking hothead) the tools to do so. Written and directed by Animal Kingdom’s David Michôd, War Machine chronicles McMahon’s strategizing, frustrations, and, eventually, his hubris as he allows a reporter to see his men partying and trash-talking their Commander-in-Chief. It’s a smart, sharp spitball of a film, but it would’ve been better with a smaller, subtler hammer. B+