Watching the trailer for Netflix's new original film War Machine, it's hard not to see how it could be based on a true story. The film offers a satirical look into the war in Afghanistan through the eyes of General Glen McMahon (Brad Pitt), a man desperate to win the war, despite having no orders to do so. It's a tale of incompetence and ego, in other words: it's ripped from the headlines. Well, it's not actually, but War Machine is a true story, just with a few embellishments.
War Machine is actually based on the nonfiction book The Operators by Michael Hastings, which recounted the author's experience shadowing General Stanley McChrystal in 2010 Afghanistan. Like the film's McMahon, McChrystal was briefly in charge of the war in Afghanistan, until he and his colleagues made some controversial statements reported in a Rolling Stone profile. McChrystal resigned soon after the profile was published in 2010.
With a real life subject so intriguing, it's surprising to see that War Machine decided to re-imagine the main character, changing the very real McChrystal to the fictional McMahon. According to Pitt, who also produced the film, the change was made to avoid judgement. "We had no interest in impugning General McChrystal or any of his guys," said the actor in an interview with the Associated Press, via Rolling Stone. "For me the problem is more systematic." It makes sense, then, that War Machine is less of a wartime drama and more of a political satire. The shift in tone gives the film room to be a critique of the entire system, not just one man.
For director David Michôd, the satirical format allowed him to explore the "schizophrenic" tone of war. "There was something so wildly crazy-bordering-on-absurd about the machinations of that world," he explained in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. Michôd also adapted the screenplay, and, according to a report from The Hollywood Reporter, it was his decision to get rid of McChrystal as the main character because he "wanted to be able to take creative liberties with the satire." Regardless of the changes,War Machine is certainly as timely as it gets.