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
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
Brad Pitt, centre, in War Machine.
Topher Grace in War Machine.