War Machine Brad Pitt, Anthony Michael Hall, John Magaro. Directed by David Michôd. Not rated. Available May 26 on Netflix.
When it was first announced in 2014, War Machine was a movie about Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who commanded U.S. military forces in Afghanistan in 2009 and 2010 before being forced to resign following a controversial Rolling Stone article. Although it’s still based on the 2012 nonfiction book The Operators by Michael Hastings (who also wrote that Rolling Stone article), War Machine is now a movie about the fictional Gen. Glen McMahon, a character inspired by (but for legal reasons distinct from) McChrystal.
The mixing of fictionalized characters with real people is just one of the awkward compromises of War Machine, which feels like it was excessively tinkered with by a few too many people. Brad Pitt plays Glen like he’s in a Saturday Night Live sketch, with ridiculously exaggerated mannerisms and a gruff, affected vocal delivery. But nearly everyone else plays the material straight, and writer-director David Michôd (Animal Kingdom, The Rover) seems to have little sense of how to create a political satire. The movie’s main idea of comedy is to throw an incongruously slick rock or hip-hop song over shots of military people doing ordinary military things, and a near-constant voiceover overexplains any potential jokes. One of the most expensive Netflix original movies to date, War Machine has the look of a major, awards-friendly feature film, but the execution of a botched studio cast-off.