War Ma­chine rolls UAE scenes on to our Net­flix screens

The Brad Pitt-led cast filmed in Abu Dhabi and Ras Al Khaimah with pro­duc­ers opt­ing to use 2,000 lo­cal ex­tras. Chris New­bould looks at the war satire and high­lights the UAE’s land­marks

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Almo s t t wo y e a r s after Brad Pitt and his crew touched down in Abu Dhabi for the month-long shoot­ing of David Michôd’s Afghan war satire, War Ma­chine, in the cap­i­tal and Ras Al Khaimah, the movie fi­nally hit our screens on Fri­day.

The film isn’t Net­flix’s first foray into fea­ture films – there was the crit­i­cally ac­claimed Beasts of No Na­tion (2015) star­ring Idris Elba, and Ricky Ger­vais and Adam San­dler are among the other big names to have ap­peared in Net­flix’s movie port­fo­lio.

War Ma­chine is, how­ever, prob­a­bly the most ea­gerly an­tic­i­pated film from Net­flix, and not just by au­di­ences keen to do a bit of UAE-land­mark spot­ting, or the 2,000 or so lo­cal ex­tras keen to catch a glimpse of them­selves on the (small) big screen.

With a $60 mil­lion (Dh220 mil­lion) bud­get the film may not be quite on block­buster level, but for what would in the past have been classed as a “made for TV” movie, the fig­ures are im­pres­sive, and when it comes to Hol­ly­wood big guns, they don’t come much big­ger than Pitt. The sup­port­ing cast in­cludes Ben Kings­ley and Tilda Swin­ton.

So what’s the ver­dict? Lo­ca­tion spot­ters won’t recog­nise much. The movie opens and closes at Abu Dhabi In­ter­na­tional Air- port, though as a lo­ca­tion it’s not ex­actly crit­i­cal to the nar­ra­tive, merely the place where our pro­ta­gan­ists ar­rive in the re­gion.

The other UAE lo­ca­tions are mostly mil­i­tary bases or dressed up to re­sem­ble Afghan vil­lages. The only fac­tor that re­ally dis­tin­guishes a mil­i­tary base in Abu Dhabi from one in Siberia is the weather, so there’s not too much I Spy to play.

There is a nice dra­matic shootout sec­tion to­wards the end of the film where the au­di­ence is taken on a lengthy tour of the dusty back­streets of Ras Al Khaimah’s old town, though the crum­bling build­ings and tethered goats don’t of­fer up too much in the way of no­tice­able land­marks.

The film it­self, mean­while, is worth watch­ing. Pitt plays United States Gen­eral Glen McMa­hon, the fic­tional chief of coali­tion forces in Afghanistan who is based on Gen­eral Stan­ley McChrys­tal.

The film is based on US jour­nal­ist Michael Hast­ings’s ac­count of McChrys­tal’s time in Afghanistan in The Op­er­a­tors.

McMa­hon ar­rives in Afghanistan fresh from suc­cesses in Iraq but the sit­u­a­tion in Afghanistan is en­tirely dif­fer­ent. There’s no for­eign army to fight, the coali­tion forces are more like a school­yard full of squab­bling kids than a finely-oiled mil­i­tary ma­chine (“This coun­try won’t fight at night, this coun­try won’t fight in the snow, this coun­try wants to do counter-nar­cotics, this coun­try won’t do counter-nar­cotics”), and McMa­hon spends more time deal­ing with PR con­sul­tants and politi­cians than he does with sol­diers.

He’s very much an old- world gen­eral in a new- world war, though he’s by no means stupid – he’s smart enough to leak his own de­mands for a mas­sive troop build- up to the me­dia when po­lit­i­cal ne­ces­sity has led the White House to bury it – but he’s equally tun­nel- vi­sioned enough to for­get to check which room his wife is in and to visit her dur­ing a sup­port-gath­er­ing trip to Paris.

The film pulls no punches in its ef­forts to por­tray the fu­til­ity of the whole on­go­ing Afghan de­ba­cle. It opens with a cyn­i­cal mono­logue about the ridicu­lous­ness of the United States’ claims to bring peace and democ­racy to the world and spends the next two hours re­in­forc­ing this.

Credit is due to Net­flix’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to shake up the TV and film en­vi­ron­ment – War Ma­chine is re­lent­less in its crit­i­cism.

There’s no short­age of films about the fu­til­ity of war, but there’s usu­ally an un­der­ly­ing sense of at least in­di­vid­ual hero­ism or a brave man do­ing his best in the face of a cor­rupt po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment. There’s no sense here that things could be dif­fer­ent with a few tweaks, and none of the lead char­ac­ters seem to have any re­deem­ing fea­tures. It’s hard to en­vis­age a film so bleak com­ing through the stu­dio sys­tem or any­where else other than Net­flix.

But for al l the bleak­ness, there’s plenty of dark hu­mour too. Kings­ley stands out as Afghan pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai, a man so con­vinced of the fu­til­ity of his own task that he’s more con­cerned about how to con­nect up his Blu-ray player than fac­ing the im­pos­si­ble task of fi xing his bro­ken coun­try, and it’s a shame the vet­eran ac­tor doesn’t get more screen time.

The qual­ity of this film war­rants a cin­ema re­lease but when you’re fo­cused on break­ing the rules of movie- watch­ing, why stand by tra­di­tion – so turn down the lights, turn up the vol­ume and em­brace the new or­der.

was pro­duced lo­cally by twofour54 Abu Dhabi and is avail­able to watch on Net­flix.

is Brad Pitt’s re­turn to the screen after a hia­tus fol­low­ing the break­down of his mar­riage to An­gelina Jolie.

Pitt plays the lead role in the Net­flix film that was two years in the mak­ing and which has been ea­gerly an­tic­i­pated by movie-go­ers.

So, did he and his crew meet ex­pec­ta­tions? Re­ac­tion has been mixed since the small-screen film was re­leased on the stream­ing web­site on Fri­day.

Net­flix was guarded about ad­vance screen­ings for the press ahead of its re­lease, but of course the Twit­terati and Face­book com­mu­ni­ties pro­vided im­me­di­ate feed­back.

There were plenty of pos­i­tive re­views. Twit­ter user @An­gusTPater­son posted: “Watch­ing #WarMa­chine on #net­flix it’s ab­sur­dist to the max & also de­press­ingly ac­cu­rate”. @Off­i­cal­lyEmz was in agreeance: “#Warma­chine I ab­so­lutely loved it. Brad Pitt was bril­liant as al­ways, loved @Poul­terWill and @Ko­laBokinni in it.”

En­ter­tain­ment web­site @Col­lider was brief in its ini­tial as­sess­ment, post­ing: “@Net­flix’s #WarMa­chine is “fre­quently hi­lar­i­ous” and in­tel­li­gent”, while @Prem­scene tweeted: “To­tally #rec­om­mend @Net­flixUK #Warma­chine #BradPitt is as sub­lime as he ever was. #Net­flixFri­day #film #sto­ry­telling #mustse.”

Not ev­ery­one was con­vinced how­ever, with some say­ing it lacked “killer in­stinct” while oth­ers de­clared it “dis­ap­point­ing”. Face­book user Meranda Parada Lim­peris wasn’t im­pressed: “Worst movie I have ever seen ... if it was a big bud­get flick, it would prob­a­bly have tanked Pitt’s ca­reer!” de­clared that “at its best,

crack­les with ir­rev­er­ent wit, even if Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal crazi­ness circa 2009 looks tame com­pared with the 2017 ver­sion”.

Its re­view refers to Pitt and his re­turn to the screen as “en­gag­ing and com­pli­cated – some­how re­call­ing both the wily and ruth­less Lieu­tenant Aldo Raine of

and the lethally stupid Chad Feld­heimer of

Chris New­bould

Brad Pitt, cen­tre, in War Ma­chine.

Fran­cois Duhamel / Net­flix via AP

To­pher Grace in War Ma­chine.

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