War Machine


No one is safe in War Machine, a new Netflix original feature film about America's conflict in Afghanistan that mercilessly skewers all the parties involved. President Barack Obama and his top political advisers are shown in full cover-your-ass mode. The military leadership are a bevy of arrogant buffoons. Congress won't allow Afghanistan to grow cotton because it would compete on the world market with domestic production, "so we're growing heroin instead." Even the narrator, an embedded reporter, lacks self-awareness: In the old days, he explains, we fought armies in uniforms—"like, Nazis and stuff."

Then there's Gen. Glen McMahon, a barely fictionalized but brutal caricature of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the real-life former commander in Afghanistan who lost his job after his men were quoted trashing the president in a Rolling Stone exposé. A silver-haired Brad Pitt plays the general in intentionally overwrought fashion. Even when he's making reasonable-sounding points ("Being a nation-building exercise and all, it seems to me it'd behoove us to have someone in the room who's actually from the nation we're building!") and insisting on visiting a "shithole" outpost in unfriendly territory to support his men, the movie is driving home one point. "You can't win the trust of a country by invading it," as our narrator tells us. "You can't build a country at gunpoint."