At the cost of $60,000,000, Netflix's upcoming original feature War Machine is the streaming service's leap into big budget movies. The satire, fronted by Hollywood heavyweight Brad Pitt, takes place within the context of the war in Afghanistan, which ran between 2001 and 2014. Thanks to Pitt's slapstick appearance — full of awkward glances and facial tics — it may be surprising to learn the film is a fictionalized interpretation of real events.
War Machine is based on the 2012 novel, The Operators, written by freelance journalist Michael Hastings from an earlier article in Rolling Stone magazine. In April 2010, Hastings spent time with General Stanley McChrystal, who at the time was the commander of all U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Later that year Hastings published a resulting article — with dramatic consequences.
The True Story Behind 'War Machine'
McChrystal, who was admired for his no-nonsense and often brash approach, had been leading the forces in Afghanistan since June 15, 2009. A few months prior, President Barack Obama's refocused the effort of US military to dismantle Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan; as well as sending an additional 21,000 troops to the capital, Kabul, he fired the previous General, David McKiernan, and replaced him with McChrystal.
However, all the qualities McChrystal was respected for also led to his downfall. Before Hastings's article was published, McChrystal had already found himself in hot water for comments made at a press conference, where he referred to a counterterrorism strategy supported by Vice President Joe Biden as "shortsighted." As a result, he was called to a private telling off from President Obama, on Air Force One no less.
Worse was to come. McChrystal — who was credited with the death of Al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi prior to his 2009 appointment — opened up to Hastings, and opened himself up to rocky waters. Hastings's article reported on unsavoury remarks made toward Vice President Biden, along with other officials. That was enough to earn him a visit to Washington to meet Obama again, two days before the article's release, on June 23, 2010. This time, his resignation swiftly followed.
General David Petraeus was hired to replace him, and just over a year later in July 2010, McChrystal retired from the military. Tragically, three years after his story which had such repercussions within the US military, journalist Hastings — who worked tirelessly to report on stories such as an exposé on America's drone war — died in a car accident aged just 33-years-old.
The key thing to note is that War Machine is a dark-comedy, satirical, and fictionalized version of events. Brad Pitt's character isn't a direct, like-for-like representation; instead, he plays General Glen McMahon, a caricature based on McChrystal. In addition to Pitt's role, Netflix flex their might with an impressive cast; Ben Kingsley plays former Afghanistan President, Hamid Karzai, Anthony Michael Hall plays Greg Pulver, a character loosely based on General Mike Flynn and Tilda Swinton stars as a German official.
War Machine's talented director, David Michôd — known for his work on Animal Kingdom (2010) — has praised Netflix for "making the kind of movie that doesn’t really get made by the studios any more." He also noted that, due to the lack of pressure in box office returns, Brad Pitt was fully unrestrained in the lead role. He said:
"We had conversations about where to pitch the character and knew quite quickly that there was no point in Brad trying to keep a leash on it. For us, it was about letting the movie be mental."
An unlikely production that may never have been made if not for Netflix, based on a true story that in itself is almost stranger than fiction. If that's not worth a Friday night viewing, I don't know what is.
War Machine will be available on Netflix on 26 May, 2017.
Will you be tuning in to Netflix to watch War Machine?