Film: “War Machine”; Director: David Michod; Cast: Brad Pitt, Ben Kingsley and Meg Tilly; Rating: * ½
Last week, Brad Pitt was in Mumbai to promote his new film which was released on Netflix this week.
Now after seeing this dreadful war saga, I realise Mr Pitt was wasting his time trying to generate interest in a film that is so outrageously mediocre and so self-righteously ‘American’ in tone that you wonder what Pitt was promoting: The film or its heavily underlined message of American patriotism.
“War Machine” is one of those rare battle-scarred films that the actors try hard to prop up with a blitzkrieg of bravado. But the vacuousness and vapidity of the content is impossible to conceal.
This is a film that wants to cry for its beloved country and its brave soldiers who leave family and home to rough it out in the hostile impenetrable hinterland of Afghanistan.
Director David Michod (best known for the wickedly quirky Australian crime drama “Animal Kingdom”) hits the shrill notes soon enough as the narrative introduces us to General Glen McMahon who is so full of it-Trump-esque bravado.
It isn’t McMahon’s fault, really. It’s the way Brad Pitt plays him. The superstar, as American as ‘We Hate Osama’ T-shirts, grabs the character by his jowls and goes right into its bowels in pursuit of the “real American patriot”. It is an over-stuffed, grossly exaggerated performance, anointed by cheesy ‘grey’ make-up, replete with the clichés of soldiering that we thought died with George C Scott’s General George Patton.
Pitt has neither the booming baritone nor the bristling energy to carry off the majestic shifts of wartime machismo that made Patton so imposing. Pitt’s soldiering sensitivities make McMahon more a brat than a hero.
Ben Kingsley as the oblivious President of Afghanistan steals the show in one sequence where Pitt comes visiting in Kingsley’s bedroom.
Kingsley explains to Pitt what the makers of this film fail to understand: Sometimes it is best to let sleeping dogs lie.
There are some very interesting foot soldiers in this messed up mega-catastrophe, played by actors who seem to know the purpose of their visit into this tortuously defensive tale of the American will to poke its nose into foreign affairs.
Some actors rise above the morass created by a director who thinks war is a zone that cinema can crash land into without a map.
There are some moments that rise above the banality of the bravado to claim some seriousness of intent.
The very talented Meg Tilly (still remembered for her star turn in “Agnes Of God” decades ago) shows up as Pitt’s wife trying hard to empathise with his obsession with battle-front heroism. She vaguely reminded me of Anjali Tendulkar who incidentally doesn’t try to act in the new Sachin Tendulkar biopic that came out this week.
You wish some of the principal actors in “War Machine” would also have desisted from ‘acting’ so extravagantly. With a sledgehammer’s subtlety, this utterly misguided film reminds us that Uncle Sam needs to be in difficult places because, well, he knows best.
Brad Pitt won’t argue with that. He just visited India.
By Subhash K. Jha