As the War Machine Keeps Turning: The Changing Landscape of Consumer Viewership

by Andrew Schwartz
“You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs,” says a blindly self-assured General Glenn McMahon (Brad Pitt) to a host of war-weary Afghani villagers whose death of a local boy at the hands of the US Marines has shaken them to their core. This may be the perfect allegory for Netflix’s foray into big budget, star-filled studio films.
War Machine (2017) made its way into the on-demand service this Friday in what is expected to be the company’s new direction for their original films. Due to the nature of this political satire, Netflix may have just been the perfect medium for it to be released on. As Netflix doesn’t reveal their actual viewership numbers, the success of this film will have to be measured differently from its box office contemporaries. The film boasts powerful performances from the recently cleaned-up Brad Pitt, That 70’s Show’s now matured Topher Grace and the ever masterful Sir Ben Kingsley, its greatest performance comes in the form of the commentary it offers on the past political climate of the War in Afghanistan, and American culture in general — no pun intended.
General McMahon is the American dream. A soldier’s soldier and a man’s man; he is self-assured, educated, liked by all and a model example of what the United States Marine Corps is supposed to represent: competence. The problem is this isn’t enough to win wars anymore, which is the main premise of the film. In the twenty-first century, it takes more than an ideological crusader backed by a group of hype men to win the hearts and minds of a country whose civilians view their liberators as invaders — the message, “We’re going to liberate the shit out of you,” doesn’t exactly convey a sense of assured camaraderie. It will also take more than a star-studded, studio budget film to win the hearts and minds of people looking to simply “Netflix and chill”.
In this light, perhaps it is best that we are able to watch War Machine from the comfort of our couches. We are able to pause and play as we please; to absorb the film on our own terms and draw our own personal conclusions. We can watch the illusion of the American dream take the form of Brad Pitt’s General McMahon, or we can continue binge watching re-runs of The Office. Whichever we choose, the world will still go on — the machine will keep turning, Netflix will keep releasing original films, and America will most likely never stop attempting to win the war on finding the next best thing to stream.
Ultimately, War Machine is a character study of a man conditioned to believe he is — and has always been — the best at what he does, which is exactly what we as Americans have been conditioned to believe since the moment we were old enough to salute the flag. Obviously, this character study is set against the backdrop of the War in Afghanistan, but this is anything but your classic war movie. Despite a powerful sequence detailing a disillusioned soldier’s faux pas moment of glory, the film is filled with comedic beats and an ensemble cast of likable ideologues who like to do what we do: get drunk and travel. What truly brings it all home is the inclusion of the Rolling Stone writer’s voice-over offering commentary that is less subtextual and more heavy-handed. This really makes the film feel authentic in its attempt to capture the essence of American culture, but it fails to hit the emotional impact and high-stakes world director David Michôd is reaching for.
Why are we here? Are we making a difference? Who is the enemy? The answers to these questions seem to escape everyone involved in the process of winning this war except for General McMahon. His fall from grace is a palpable recreation of the current state of the American military, but most importantly, it’s a step forward in understanding the nature of war in the twenty-first century. Can we control chaos behind a gun, or shall we return to the isolationism that dominated American culture before World War II? In other words, can we truly help the citizens of the world or should we focus on ourselves first? After watching the film, one might be forced to sympathize with the latter.

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6 Responses to “As the War Machine Keeps Turning: The Changing Landscape of Consumer Viewership”

  1. darrell Says:

    May 27th, 2017 at 4:09 pm

    I think with Brad Pitt in the past few years taking on Lead roles on the big screen such as FURY, Allied, also not to mention Inglorious Bastards ect.. I think he will do just fine, because he has a history of playing strong military characters in recent history.

  2. George Edward Fernandez Says:

    May 27th, 2017 at 8:35 pm

    One has to wonder if any exec actually read the script at all or just followed the lead over the cliff. The story was a mess trying to describe the new face of war in the 21st Century barely touching the true factor of modern warfare. It is no longer strategy or man power but political necessity. When the General is told to make his study, he is told how his study will end and that would be supporting the view of the present White House.
    The Director seemed to be overwhelmed by the story. He didn’t know if he was going for Patton or Animal House. Either one would have been better than what he ended up with.

  3. Andrew Says:

    May 28th, 2017 at 5:45 am

    This was terribly marketed. Trailers make you think it’s a comedy, but I didn’t find anything funny about it. Pitt is a very good actor but what he delivers is a simple caricature, one more fitting for SNL. They missed the mark here, where I think if played out as a serious drama it could have been a very moving film.

  4. Jeff Says:

    May 28th, 2017 at 8:18 am

    Good script. Wooden performance by Brad Pitt. Didn’t believe his character believed what he was saying. I’ve known many generals, some like the one being portrayed. I once had to brief a three-star Marine general, who later got his fourth star. He was an imposing character, highly decorated, over 6ft, and held an opposing viewpoint. I expected to be reamed out; he created that expectation by his mere presence. The general listened intently and then in gentlemanly fashioned explained why he thought my viewpoint was false. I would have followed him anywhere. Pitt’s character was nothing like him. I would have been trying to get off Pitt’s staff at any cost, rather than supporting him. The director blew it. Not worth seeing.

  5. Tracey Says:

    May 28th, 2017 at 8:29 am

    Marines should never be referred to as “soldiers,” even ficticious Marines. Soldiers are in the Army.

  6. Dona General Says:

    May 28th, 2017 at 11:10 am

    I agree with Jeff. Pitt is a good actor, but basically well known as a romantic leading man not George C. Scott as Patton. Even the voice is phony baloney.

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