Emotion does little to wipe away Brad Pitt’s smirk: Schneller

Glenimal in War Machine is the same growling doofus from beginning to end.

Brad Pitt as Gen. Glen McMahon in War Machine.


Brad Pitt as Gen. Glen McMahon in War Machine.

THE SHOW: War Machine (Netflix)

THE MOMENT: The warning

Gen. Glen McMahon, a.k.a. Glenimal (Brad Pitt), is the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, a brusque know-it-all. He rides a transport plane with politician Pat McKinnon (Alan Ruck), who he thinks is a wuss.

“How do you think this ends, Glen?” Pat asks.

“Simple,” Glen barks. “We either win it or we lose it.”

“I’m gonna call B.S. on that,” Pat says. “All the winning we were going to do, we did in the first six months. Since then we’ve just been making a mess. You’re not here to win. You’re here to clean up the mess.”

Glen glowers. “Get your PowerPoint presentation in order,” Pat advises. “Show us how all the graphs are suddenly pointing in the right direction. That’s how this ends best for you. A nice-looking set of graphs. Or a nicer looking set than the last set.”

The incendiary Rolling Stone article and subsequent book that blew up the career of Stanley McChrystal — upon which this telefilm is based — was about exposing the U.S. general’s hubris and mistakes, and drilling down on them: He missed the point here and here and here.

This film follows that pattern. In a movie, however, the main character is supposed to change. That Pitt’s Glenimal is the same growling doofus from beginning to end turns this from satire (which they’re clearly going for) to outright polemic.

Only at the end, as U.S. soldiers die in an utterly pointless battle, does the film rise to genuine emotion. But even that doesn’t wipe the smirk off Pitt’s face.

Johanna Schneller is a media connoisseur who zeroes in on pop-culture moments. She appears Monday through Thursday.

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