Pitt’s War Machine character, Gen. Glen McMahon, is loosely based on the real Gen. Stanley McChrystal.
When you think about the 16 years America has been fighting in Afghanistan, “funny” probably isn’t a word that comes to mind. So, at first blush, the new dark comedy War Machine feels a bit risky. It stars Brad Pitt as a revered but semi-clueless four-star general who’s appointed to oversee the entire war effort in Afghanistan.
Pitt says the film uses comedy to lure viewers in, then it shows them some harsh realities. “I would say our film is funny until it’s not; until the dial is turned to a more serious tone, till we get to the real repercussions for the troops, who are actually having to follow these orders.”
War Machine was directed by Australian filmmaker David Michôd. He says if there are scenes that seem insensitive, well, there’s a legacy there. “America, as we know, has a long and rich history of war comedy — you know, [Dr.] Strangelove, M*A*S*Hand Catch-22 and … even Stripes.”
But according to Michôd, that genre has dried up. He points to a changing relationship between society and its military. “You could build comedy out of World War II, for instance, because the military machine was so much a part of society. … In the decades since, that separation that’s emerged between society and the military has had the effect of making it almost seem as if you cannot talk about military with anything other than reverence — in a way that would have been unthinkable back in World War II.”
Michôd says being Australian put him in a unique position to talk about America’s wars. “Australia has fought side-by-side with the United States in every major conflict since World War I. … And so in a way I feel like I have the privilege of and outsider’s eye, and yet also feel very entitled to speak as well, to have an opinion.”
Michôd’s new film is loosely based on a real general, Stanley McChrystal, who commanded allied forces in Afghanistan. In 2010, the late journalist Michael Hastings exposed McChrystal and his doubts about President Obama’s war strategy, and the general was fired.