Movie Review: Netflix’s War Machine

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By: Jaclyn Cascio (@jaclynator)

Netflix invested big money in their original film production, War Machine, starring Brad Pitt. Did that investment pay off for the streaming service? Read on for a review of the film and find out!

War Machine was advertised as an absurdist war story, and on that front the film delivered as promised. High on his own hubris, a general is brought to the Middle East to take command of the forces there, and he truly believes he has the winning strategy to wrap up the war. (Spoiler: It’s not a good plan.) In a cynical look at the handling of the war and the plans of those in power, War Machine is a satirical project that aims to be a dramedy with a message. Whether that message is effectively communicated to the general viewing audience is questionable, however.

Watching War Machine, it’s fairly easy to see what the makers were trying to say. However, that focus gets a little lost in the meandering story-telling of the film (and just a few too many characters to comfortably keep track of). Everyone has met someone who rambles on and on, detouring from the main story with irrelevant details. Everyone knows what the point is, but they’re just waiting for the orator to get to that point. War Machine is the movie version of a human rambler, getting off the path and heading down the rabbit holes that go nowhere in the end. The result is a film project lacking focus and good pacing.

Part of the reason the message is lost in the rambling is that War Machine actually tries too hard to be a sardonic commentary of the conflict in Afghanistan. There is fine line between making a satire and going completely over-the-top, and War Machine unfortunately fell on the wrong side of that line. It’s as if the creators of the film were overly aware of the humor they wanted to instill in the project. Try this thought experiment on for size: Imagine someone telling you over and over again that they are cool. They declare it so frequently and vehemently, you begin to realize that if they have to inform you how cool they are, the behind-the-scenes truth is likely that they aren’t actually that cool. Now apply that same concept to Netflix’s film. War Machine keeps trying to tell the audience that it is sardonic and sarcastic, to the point where the audience begins to wonder if that’s actually true. By trying too hard, the humor didn’t evolve organically, but was forced. The actions of the story are honestly absurd enough in and of themselves, and the audience can get on board with that. It would be fairly safe to say that too much “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” weaseled its way into War Machine, making the comedy of the events uncomfortable instead of humorous.

This is not to say that War Machine is all bad. If you can look past the “trying too hard” attitude, the film has a great Catch-22 feel to it. There are some who might argue that the book Catch-22 is over the top and too unrealistic. It was the absurdist war story of its time. But just about anyone in the military or involved with the military can tell you that it’s far closer to the truth than any civilian would believe. As outrageous as War Machine tries to be, there’s a lot of truth to the story. It may fly over the heads of those who haven’t experienced it personally, but those in the know can appreciate how ridiculous reality may actually be. In fact, Pentagon reporter Helene Cooper spoke on podcast “The Daily” about the popularity of War Machine in D.C. “…everybody at the Pentagon is talking about [the movie]… It’s a very anti-Afghanistan war movie, but the guys who you think would be offended by it, love it.”

War Machine currently stands with a 55% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and 6.1/10 on IMDb. I might be biased as a former military member who has seen what’s behind the curtain and came away with a different perspective (and a different sense of humor). However, criticisms aside, I believe War Machine is worth the watch. (If you have Netflix, it’s a low risk investment anyway. No extra dough spent at Redbox to give the movie a try.) If nothing else, the film serves as an interesting conversation starter in the world of politics. Getting people talking is as great as reward as any in media, and there War Machine shines.


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