You can almost see Pitt, expert gambler, reading the table as War Machine attempts to be both goofy exploitation and authentic docudrama. The movie has a silly streak, thanks to Anthony Michael Hall's vein-busting riff on General Mike Flynn, Topher Grace's civilian press adviser, who lives by PR Douchebaggery 101, and Alan Ruck's political suit, whose mere presence in a conversation about war McMahon takes as an insult. But as new troops enter the scene, and McMahon's motivational speeches about "winning" start falling on deaf ears, War Machine becomes more like Jarhead, a languid look at stagnation, forced into bloodshed by an old school guy who just wants to kick ass.
These clashing takes on the same premise never coalesce, but the larger-than-life performance by Pitt is still a keystone. While it's tough to feel compassion for an optics-obsessive warmonger, his fall pulls back a curtain on a decade's worth of headlines that have all blurred together. From the death of Pat Tillman to Bowe Bergdahl's desertion and capture, it's easy to forget that the systemic failures of war still fall on the backs of real men. McMahon makes decisions, and occasionally wild ones worth of his yuk-yuk-yuk persona, and they ripple through global politics. And his ideology is in constant conflict with itself; though he meets with Afghanistan leaders, recruits one man to become his mouthpiece to the nation, he's still driven by the fire to crush an opposition... against his advisors' orders. The look on Pitt's face when it all goes to shit, after an hour-long satirical romp, says it all.