REVIEW: ‘War Machine’ Showcases the Hard Choices of War

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War Machine is a story of heroes and company men. For heroes like War Machine’s General Glen McMahon (based on General Stanley McCrystal who ran the International Security Assistance Force from 2009-2010), his goal was simple: win the war. The company men, whose ilk were so prominent during the Vietnam war have returned once again, this time in the form of Pat McKinnon, Dick Waddle, and Griffin Dunn. Their mission for McMahon was a simple one, give an assessment, tell the president what he needs to finish the war and above all, do not ask for more troops.

This is a big problem for McMahon as the only way he sees that they can win requires them to go in and invade Helmand, thereby bringing the people peace. However, this is going to require 40, 000 troops, something the company men- particularly Waddle- cannot abide. This forces McMahon to get creative. With the help of his Civilian Media Advisor, Matt Little (played by That 70s show’s Topher Grace) McMahon forces the president’s hand and eventually gets 30, 000 – with the added caveat that all troops will be pulled out in 18 months. This infuriates McMahon as he feels this time limit will not allow them to finish what they started

Added to the mix is a writer looking for a career-making story, which thanks to an ill-advised night of drinking he received and McMahon was subsequently replaced.

Throughout the story, the embattled McMahon constantly tries to institute counter-insurgency, but it’s hard to be someone’s hero when they don’t want you to be, “this is the hand of helping, McMahon says at one point in the movie, his hand outstretched towards the locals, “I know it doesn’t seem that way when there’s a gun in it, but I assure you…” The people’s response to this gesture: Please leave. Despite the setbacks, he forges ahead, does the job.  McKinnon tells him, ‘there won’t be a parade for you at the end of this’ For McMahon, the parade would at best be a bonus, who only wants to do the job, he does not consider himself a hero, and yet through his determination to succeed, to help people build better lives, and leave the country in a better position than when he came in, he succeeds.

Unfortunately, not everyone agrees, the journalist doesn’t depict McMahon and his men as the heroes they are, but as a crew of hedonistic party boys who think very little of the current administration. Yet even the greatest of heroes have flaws, they all have moments that should be kept private. When those moments are plastered on Rolling Stone for all to read, there must be repercussions.

McKinnon had said there wasn’t going to be a parade for him, and he was right. McMahon wasn’t willing to acquiesce to the demands of the company men, he took what he felt was the best action, even though that action seemed to compound the issue. Despite the missteps, it is always the heroes that we remember years after the war is over, not the company men.

I felt War Machine was a phenomenal character study. Brad Pitt’s portrayal of General Glen McMahon created a vision of leaders trying to perfect a way of life in an imperfect time. Watching this film, I gained a better understanding of a controversial war and has ultimately inspired me to learn more about the conflict and the various complexities within. As more viewers discover the film I hope they are inspired to do the same.