Saturday, May 27, 2017

Movie review: War Machine (Netflix, Brad Pitt, Afghanistan, satire?)


Official Release Poster
War Machine” it is not. Sorry, Brad Pitt.

My ears perk up whenever I hear the word “Afghanistan,” so I was intrigued when I heard about a new movie, a humorous (satirical?) movie about US troops in Afghanistan, starring Brad Pitt. What a combination!

We watched it yesterday when it came out on Netflix.

Brad Pitt?

Brad Pitt is a little boy trying to scowl, squint only in one eye, and act wizened, grey and wrinkled. He just doesn’t quite have the command presence that even “first louies” pick up naturally – rather, Pitt affects a put-upon macho swagger that fizzles like the day after the Fourth of July. Perhaps he has too much blond hair for a four-star general?

I do appreciate his bunking in a regular troop’s billet rather than a private room complete with his own bathroom in Afghanistan. I am not sure I like his numerous selfies with the troops. He supposedly eats one meal a day and sleeps four hours a night, though.

Smell the heat

Sections of some scenes are so realistic that I could smell the piercing temperatures and the radiating-heat canvas tents and the desert powder-sand (all the smells I love and that bring back memories), but I then I would be sidetracked by the many instances of troops being depicted “out of uniform” - a jacket totally unzipped, an ACU collar standing up on one side rather than lying down flat – generally by colonels or generals.

The further downrange one goes, however, the less uniform the uniforms can get away with (more important things on the minds of soldiers than saluting, plus Marines do not salute in a combat zone) but every movie has military advisors and, I have heard tell, that there is at least one uniform error so that the enemy viewing the film will not know the proper way to way our uniform.

Too many minutes are devoted to a unit ‘under fire’ in a village but the viewer even then ‘gets’ the true flavor of being in a combat zone (except hats are generally not worn on the tarmac for safety reasons). War Machine will bring back memories and spark conversations for those of us who were deployed there or to Iraq.

Farce or not?

Not quite. A quality film would have been astutely well-written with slick quips to bring forth a sly smile or an audience-wide round of loud guffaws. War Machine wasn’t exactly slap-stick but, obviously, the military advisor to the script and filming was not fully present when he should have been.

What’s effective about War Machine

Actors of the proper age were generally selected for the proper rank. Two-star general Pulver (Anthony Michael Hall, portraying a similarity to General Mike Flynn) is about the right age – much older than the higher-ranking four-star general, Pitt. Proper deference for rank was not afforded, however, even when deployed.

Meg Tilly as the General’s wife puts in a stellar, believable performance, as does Tilda Swinton as a realistic German reporter, and the ever-malleable Ben Kingsley as President Karzai.

However, . . .

The Book
The Story: In or about 2009, the ranking US general (Stanley McChrystal) in Afghanistan took an assessment tour of the country and requested a troop surge (right after I left!), then approved a Rolling Stone writer to be embedded and ‘hang out.’ The eventual article reported on comments purported to be made by the general that should never have been said or related (they were ‘off the record’) and on soldiers drunk at an impromptu party (not in theater). This, combined by the good general’s attempts to fight the system resulted in his being fired or resigning – as well as a book by the magazine’s reporter (The Operators by Michael Hastings) before he died in an auto crash in 2013.

People will watch War Machine because of the subject matter, because it is a Netflix flick, because of Brad Pitt: they may not watch the entire film even if it is Memorial Day weekend.

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