Starring Brad Pitt, Ben Kingsley, Anthony Michael Hall, Topher Grace, Scoot McNairy, Tilda Swinton
Based on The Operators by Michael Hastings
Written and Directed by
Reviewed by Paul Gibbs
Out of Four
Brad Pitt isn't the sort of actor we associate with drastic transformation. He's given a lot of very good performanes and even some excellent ones, and he's consistently engaging and compelling. But he's not an actor who disappears into different mannerisms or character voices with each role. And that's okay: for the most part I find those actors to place the technique over the soul of the performance, and I'm rarely moved by their work. Give me a Brad Pitt, Tom Hanks or George Clooney who make me think of and relate to their character as a fully-realized human being any day over a Johnny Depp who is self-concously absorbed in showing us how quirky or "versatile" he can be. But the downside is that when an actor whose persona we know as well as Pitt's does attempt that kind of transformation, those layers of artifice somehow make us more inclined to just see the actor underneath and keep us distanced from the character. And that's the problem with Pitt's portrayal of an ambitious general in the Netflix original film War Machine.
Writer/Director David Michod keeps things moving well enough, and provides some powerful sequences, such as a disgruntled young soldier experiencing a devastating tragedy after breaking from orders on a mission, or an amusing extended cameo by Ben Kingsley as former Afghani president Hamid Karzai, or one jaw-dropping moment where McMahon discovers why U.S. policies force local farmers to grow heroin instead of cotton. But as with too many of Hollywood's war on terror movies, we're left unsure what exactly the film is trying to say. The futility of the counter-insurgency approach is explained so well and so succinctly that we don't feel we need the rest of the film to illustrate it, and it gets a little tedious just seeing McMahon and his team continuing to do things that obviously aren't going to work.
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