The satire is the most fragile of all the genres. Drama fails or succeeds on the strength of very definite qualities like story, character, and pathos. Comedy has leeway with its execution on account of its casual tone, as even the blackest comedies have a jokey kernel. Strict genre fare or action is even more forgiving: as long as the film hits a few key points, we enjoy the parts that hit, and dismiss the parts that miss (i.e., the recent Mad Max, which is awesome yet fairly bereft of story). But with satire, if certain elements are missing – a unifying vision, a stylistic conceit, or even a single performance – then the product just feels off. So is the case with War Machine, the Netflix film from Brad Pitt’s production company Plan B Entertainment. Though the satirical aspirations of this send-up of the War on Terror are apparent and welcome, there are simply too many missteps.
Sometime in the near future, someone is going to stumble upon Allied in a Redbox or on a premium cable channel, have no idea what it is about, and end up liking the movie just fine. Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard turn in reasonable performances, there is a surprising amount of detail to the plotting, and the ending is reasonable (if a little slap-dash; endings are hard). Unfortunately, this movie is absolutely ruined by its trailer. Of course, explaining why means delving into some pretty serious spoilers myself, which will also ruin the movie, but Allied isn’t so great to begin with, so it is no real crime there. In fact, I can think of at least two spy movies starring Brad Pitt that are better than Allied (Spy Game and Inglourious Basterds; and yes it is).
Show of hands: who understands what happened to cause the financial crisis of 2007-2008 and the subsequent global recession? Okay, now all the liars that have their hands up – do you think you could explain it to a standard movie audience, while still telling an engaging, cinematic story? Well, Adam McKay, famous for creating the Funny or Die website and directing comedies like Anchorman and Step Brothers, has succeeded in this endeavor. McKay’s ridiculous stylistic choices help portray the absurdity of the entire financial system, and instill a sense of incredulity in the audience. As a result, he has crafted a wonderful and funny film with full character arcs, rousing thematic statements, and eye-opening revelations about the world we live in.