Political satire comes to Netflix with this week’s new release War Machine. Brad Pitt stars as Gen. Glen McMahon, a thinly-veiled version of the real-life Gen. Stanley McChrystal. McMahon is the latest in a series of generals tasked with managing the seemingly never-ending war in Afghanistan, sent there to win the conflict and protect those in the country.
The reality is, though, that expectations are all over the place. He wants to win, but is unclear about what winning looks like exactly. Politicians are tired of dealing with this albatross and bureaucrats just want the damn thing managed and closed out quietly. While McMahon has a can-do spirit and lots of enthusiasm, he doesn’t have the tools or the resources necessary to affect change. And the efforts of an investigative journalist may just bring his whole career, not to mention his efforts in-country, crashing down.
The poster – yes, Netflix created one – has Pitt at the front of a group of soldiers, he and them all decked out in camo uniforms. Everyone’s got kind of a befuddled or goofy look on their face or is in a silly pose, helping to sell this as a comedy. “We’re gonna liberate the sh** out of you” reads the copy at the top, reinforcing the darkly humorous attitude of the movie.
The first trailer clearly establishes this as a dark comedy, showing everyone questioning an unseen military official in various ways and for various reasons. Some soldiers talk about the troubles they’re having until finally we meet McChrystal and his cavalier attitude about things.
The second trailer is a little less obtuse, starting off with McMahon giving a speech to the troops about how you can’t kill the very population they’re meant to protect. But when we start flashing back to his being recruited for the job we see he’s just seen as a banner holder, someone to finally get the U.S. out of Afghanistan without any further delay. Others, though, just want it done whatever the end result.
This still looks like a darkly comic take on America’s longest running war. Pitt looks pretty funny and it almost reminds me of the kind of satire that used to be regularly featured in HBO’s original films of the late 80s/early 90s. That’s a compliment.
The second trailer shows Gen. McMahon’s attitude and approach to superiors as he feigns connection issues to get out of a conversation with the Vice President. We again are told he’s there to win, not just to manage the chaos. His soldiers tell him about the problems they have with the locals and his own approach is sometimes a bit clueless and brash. The overall message here is even more clearly that this is a dark comedy about a war that’s being mishandled by people who don’t know what the goal is, much less how to achieve it, and that the generals in charge are being put in an impossible situation.
Online and Social
Still no website here. The movie got limited support, mostly around the release of new trailers, on Netflix’s social accounts but didn’t get profiles of its own.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Nothing here either.
Media and Publicity
A first-look photo appeared in EW’s summer movie preview along with comments promising a crazy story.
The movie was pegged as one of those that’s representative of the new crop of movies that present war as being both darkly funny and deeply poignant. With so many ethical and procedural boundaries constantly being crossed or questioned, and with America still fighting wars it began 15 or more years ago, it’s only natural that these movies change tone from what we saw 30 years or more in the past.
This looks like it could be pretty fun. The campaign as a whole sets the movie up as a satire based on recent events in the vein of Wag The Dog and other stories that throw shade at the combination of politics and the military. That’s not to say war is funny – that’s not the point of the marketing here – but it wants to weigh in on the absurdity of not just war in general but also the specific war America has been fighting for going on two decades with no end in sight.
Notable is Pitt, who’s a big name for a Netflix original movie. That’s likely why this movie, unlike other releases from the service, has received a relatively large campaign with three trailers and a poster. For Netflix, that’s huge. And Pitt’s performance is at the center of it. I’ve always liked the actor when he disappears fully into a character and this seems to be an example of that. He plays the general straight, letting the dialogue and situations get the laughs while he’s taking it seriously. That performance, even more than the story, makes up the largest value proposition for the audience.