Can’t cruise the internet lately and not see an ad for Brad Pitt’s War Machine, a Netflix original. Pitt is a sly comedian who is no stranger to war movies (that Troy sure had a lot of fighting, right?). In War Machine Pitt combines both comedy and war as he did most memorably in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. There’s a long line of comic war movies, of course, some of which have become iconic explorations of the absurdity accompanying the horror: M*A*S*H and Catch-22 are the top-billed of these, but the list is long.
Both M*A*S*H and Catch-22 had elements of truth in them, as comedy must, but were presented as fiction. (Catch-22 author Joseph Heller later said some of the more memorable scenes in his book were based on his observations in the service.) War Machine follows their lead, presenting its content as fiction even though the film clearly had its origins in real life reporting by Michael Hastings, who wrote The Operators (see above), the book that inspired War Machine. Hastings’ book was largely about General Stanley McChrystal about whom Hastings also wrote in Rolling Stone, winning prizes for a story called “The Runway General.” That describes Brad Pitt’s character in War Machine pretty well. But Pitt’s character is called Glen McMahon, sharing only the “Mc” with McChrystal. So is War Machine a true story? Well, Ben Kingsley sure does seem like Hamid Karzai. And that’s Afghanistan alright.