A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that War Machine is a Netflix Original movie. It's a re-imagined, thinly disguised comedic portrayal of events that took place in Afghanistan in 2009-2010. An army general, designated commander of US forces, touted as "the finest of warriors and leader of men" arrives in the war-torn territory to turn around a long, grueling, mostly unsuccessful effort to rid the country of its "insurgency" and the Taliban. Unfortunately, as depicted in this satire, that general is ill-prepared for the impossible task that he's been given, and, sadly, too pompous and clueless to recognize that fact. One lengthy battle sequence toward the end of the movie is suspenseful and violent; scenes with guns and explosions are graphic; people (including innocents) are killed. Profanity is heard frequently, including "s--t" and many uses and forms of "f--k." Soldiers drink and get drunk in multiple scenes; heroin is mentioned as a cash crop in the country, and a player is referred to as being "high all the time." Not for kids.
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What's the story?
As WAR MACHINE opens, the United States is involved in a six-year maelstrom of fighting against an insurgent enemy in Afghanistan. President Obama hasn't been able to extricate the country from a war he inherited. Victory isn't yet in sight. Americans have had enough. Into this setting comes the lauded and popular military hero, General Glen McMahon (Brad Pitt). Filled with bravado and confidence, the general, along with his staff of gung-ho yes-men, undertakes the task with gusto, if not insight. What follows are clashes between McMahon's team and those who've been on the ground before them, misunderstandings between McMahon and D.C. government officials, and continuing difficulties in determining which civilians are on which side. McMahon's single-mindedness, based on nothing resembling the current predicament, makes a bad scene even worse. When a zealous Rolling Stone reporter boosts the narcissistic McMahon's ego with the prospect of a tell-all article for the magazine, it's a story destined to spin out of control. As seen here, war is hell. But some of those upon whom all the innocents of the world count are the devils who rule.
Is it any good?
Nothing's harder than finding the fine line between satire and caricature, and though director and cast aren't fully up to the task, the film still scores some strong points about both ego and war. The foundation of the story told in War Machine is true. A year in Afghanistan from 2009-2010. Eager, cowboy-general moves in to take the town; reality rears its head and upends his path to glory; and finally, blind narcissism sends him packing. The messages -- about the impossibility of war in situations like modern Afghanistan, Syria, and multitudes of other countries steeped in chaos, and the hopelessness of rallying the locals against who knows who and who knows when, what, and where -- are clear. The tale of one general's self-destructive undoing is worth telling. Still, every character is one-dimensional (Anthony Michael Hall's performance is particularly grating); every situation is expected; and, for those familiar with the real Rolling Stone article, the “Oh My God” factor happened long ago. Too much violence and swearing for kids.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about movies like War Machine that treat serious topics, like war, with humor. What are the desired outcomes of such movies? What is the meaning of the phrase: "laughter is the best medicine"?
What is this film's attitude about the U.S. participation in war in Afghanistan? What is the film's attitude about war, in general?
All movies, even comedies, have the potential to be learning experiences. How did this movie enrich your understanding of the terms "insurgency" and "counter-insurgency?"
Was this film's writer-director, David Michod, able to find the right balance between the drama and the comedy in War Machine? In what ways, if any, was he successful?
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