War Machine

Year: 2017
Studio: Netflix
Director: David Michôd
Writer: David Michôd
Cast: Brad Pitt, Emory Cohen, Anthony Michael Hall, Topher Grace, RJ Cyler, Will Poulter, Alan Ruck, Ben Kingsley, Meg Tilly, Griffin Dunne, Scoot McNairy, Tilda Swinton, Kick Gurry, Dan Wyllie, Russell Crowe

I've heard it said that Netflix is great at series and terrible at films, and after watching Ricky Gervais' Special Correspondents and now this I can believe it. Both films are muddy, messy, unfocused and seem to have satirical aspirations but either no idea what they want to say or with no finesse or even clarity in saying it.

It's about a no-nonsense General who arrives in Afghanistan to take command when the quagmire is in full swing, locals and insurgents alike just wanting America out. That description makes it seem ripe for satire – like a modern day Stripes that's geopolitically current – but it goes off into so many weird directions and says so many things it ends up saying nothing.

Brad Pitt is Glen McMahon, the titular officer who arrives to take control of the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, surrounded by a cadre of senior officers who love him and with a mission that's as firm as his signature squint.

There's a lot about McMachon – his regular jog around the base in the predawn hours, the way his hand is perpetually curled into a claw – that makes it seem like the script was going for an iconic character. Instead he just has no discernible persoanlity, just tics like the squint and growling voice, but revealing nothing else. Is he a ruthlss careerist? A wily political operator? A straight-arrow rulebook follower? He's all of those and none of them all at once.

And the story surrounding McMahon is just as hard to pin down. There's a voiceover from early on and for the longest time you have no idea who's doing the talking until it's revealed his unit is being shadowed by a Rolling Stone reporter (the script is based on the story about Stanley A McChrystal, the real life Afghanistan commander whose Rolling Stone profile was his undoing).

He travels to the four corners of Afghanistan trying to sell America's continued presence, winning hearts and minds, as the slogan had it, and is met with resistance or hostility, and right there is where the film could have said soemthing prescient.

Instead, he butts heads with senior intelligence and military officers back home, leads his men on a few mssions that inject much-needed bouts of action, and for a comedy, it's not the least bit funny.

Pitt has cachet to waste, but Aussie director David Michôd's promising post- Animal Kingdom continues to sputter right out of the gate.

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