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Review: Brad Pitt vehicle ‘War Machine’ lands its blows

The political satire from Netflix is rooted in recent history

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

In the Netflix original movie “War Machine,” Brad Pitt plays Glen McMahon, a four-star general who is sent to Afghanistan to clean up the mess that’s been made there by the U.S. Except there is no cleaning it up, just various acts of political theater, which this sharp satire highlights with a mix of wit, humor and human drama.

McMahon is based on Gen. Stanley McChrystal, a decorated combat veteran who was brought down by an unflattering 2010 Rolling Stone article. Most of the details here are the same, including Lady Gaga covering the issue in which the article appears, but the character of McMahon has been fictionalized in order to heighten the comic element of the situation as well as the absurdities of war.

Pitt’s McMahon is a cartoonish creation, but he brings warmth and humanity to the character beneath his surface-level quirks. He’s a craggy individual, his hand permanently fixed in a claw, and Pitt gives him a froggy accent that makes him sound like the cousin of his character in “Inglorious Basterds.” He gives him a series of grunts that communicate everything from understanding to disappointment to admonishment to confusion to resignation.

McMahon knows war and he knows winning, nothing else, but he’s thrown in a situation in which he’s set up to fail. There is no winning, only political spaghetti, a situation that continues to get worse because of a fundamental misunderstanding of what’s at stake and an unwillingness to admit error at the highest levels of government.

Australian writer-director David Michôd (“Animal Kingdom”) gives an outsider’s perspective to the situation and identifies closely with the soldiers sent to do the government’s bidding, particularly Cpl. Billy Cole (“Get Out” standout Keith Stanfield), who asks the questions everyone is thinking: What are we doing here? And how do we get out?

A strong cast, including Topher Grace, Anthony Michael Hall, Alan Ruck, Ben Kingsley, Meg Tilley and Scoot McNairy round out the impressive ensemble and help this satire land its blows. “War Machine” deals with a heightened reality that is probably uncomfortably close to the truth.

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‘War Machine’


Not rated: Language, violence

Running time: 121 minutes

On Netflix