REVIEW: War Machine

30 05 2017

Admittedly, I am not that interested in how David Michod’s “War Machine” plays into cinema’s canon of films about the Middle Eastern conflicts of our century. I am, however, very interested in how it plays into Brad Pitt’s filmography over the last decade or so.

Pitt was once (and still is, to an extent) a major tabloid sex symbol with a charisma so potent that it could ensnare a co-star. His macho swagger could level city blocks in Hollywood. But now, he’s been playing a different type … over and over and over again. As General Glen McMahon, a lightly fictionalized version of infamously terminated General Stanley McChrystal, Pitt adds another chapter to what can most charitably be described as a moment of clarity. Some, less generously, might also call it a mid-life crisis.

McMahon follows in the footsteps of Billy Beane from “Moneyball,” Jackie Cogan from “Killing Them Softly,” and Ben Rickert from “The Big Short” – among other characters – as Pitt’s new favorite archetype. These ponderous veterans of their respective trades are straight shooters with a radical approach to their field greeted with skepticism by those still trapped by conventional wisdom. Gradually, they increase their risky maneuvers for personal vindication, only to meet fierce pushback from the established vanguard. And usually some kind of character flaw, usually pride, serves a major Achilles’ heel along the journey.

McMahon’s quest involves getting a broader sign-off on his counterintelligence strategy in Afghanistan, a cause for which he’s even willing to enlist a civilian PR director (Topher Grace’s Matt Little) in order to ruffle some feathers in the Obama administration. Michod mostly operates in a satirical mode to display his hubristic “hearts and minds” campaign, though “War Machine” has plenty of genuine moments of real introspection about America’s conflicted role in enduring conflict.

Perhaps to give the proceedings some groundings in actual war, the third act takes a huge detour into actual armed combat with characters we haven’t received enough information on to feel invested in. We do, however, have plenty to intellectualize the United States’ peacekeeping and democracy-spreading operations through McMahon. This comes from both the movie itself and everything Brad Pitt brings to the role with an earned stoicism and world-weariness – but a penchant for innovating and retooling moribund strategies. B





REVIEW: We’re The Millers

13 08 2013

We're the MillersIn “We’re The Millers,” television’s “Breaking Bad” meets film’s “National Lampoon’s Vacation” as mid-level drug dealer David Clark (Jason Sudeikis) enlists a crazy cast to help him smuggle marijuana across the U.S.-Mexico border.  (So in that way, perhaps it’s more like “Maria Full of Grace” meets 2013’s “Identity Thief.”)  This motley crew from near his building includes well-meaning exotic dancer Rose (Jennifer Aniston), tough teenage street rat (Emma Roberts), and an aloof adolescent boy Kenny (Will Poulter) with a passing resemblance to Tintin.

The movie manages to provide a few decent laughs along the journey, though they are largely front-loaded.  “We’re The Millers” starts off with some very clever and witty banter, largely uttered by Sudeikis, who is quickly proving himself to be quite the sultan of snark.  It’s certainly a much better role for him than his bland characters in “Horrible Bosses” and “Hall Pass,” and he could soon be rivaling Paul Rudd for roles.

But the film starts to veer off course in the second half, resorting to more and more ludicrous gags to provide humor.  These ridiculous scenarios often provide their fair share of cringe-worthy moments, enough to make the film feel like it has overstayed its welcome by a solid 30 minutes.  Though I don’t want to say too much, at least “We’re The Millers” doesn’t end by caving to all the road trip, family, or rom-com tropes.

By the time the gag reel rolls, the film essentially arrives at a comedic standstill.  It’s got enough sardonic and standoffish Aniston and sulky Roberts to make anyone roll their eyes.  But it’s also got some good Sudeikis everyman sarcasm and a pretty winning performance from Poulter, playing naive innocence with gusto.  So, in other words, “We’re the Millers” is decidedly average.  C+2stars