Brad Pitt On The Darkly Comic 'War Machine': 'Our Film Is Funny Until It's Not' Pitt plays a semi-clueless four-star general charged with overseeing the war effort in Afghanistan. He says the film uses comedy to lure viewers in, then shows them some harsh realities.
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'Our Film Is Funny Until It's Not': Brad Pitt On The Darkly Comic 'War Machine'

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'Our Film Is Funny Until It's Not': Brad Pitt On The Darkly Comic 'War Machine'

'Our Film Is Funny Until It's Not': Brad Pitt On The Darkly Comic 'War Machine'

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

When you think about the 16 years America has been locked in war with Afghanistan, funny is probably not the first word that comes to mind, which is why the new dark comedy "War Machine" can at first blush feel a bit risky.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WAR MACHINE")

BRAD PITT: (As Gen. Glen McMahon) I'm just trying to work this thing out. The president gave me a job to do.

NICHOLAS JONES: (As Dick Waddle) Damn it, Glen. What did we tell you? No more troops. Don't ask for more troops. What do you do? You ask for 40,000.

PITT: (As Gen. Glen McMahon) Hey, hang on, Dick. You're cutting out. I can't hear you. Can you hear me?

JONES: (As Dick Waddle) Yeah, I can hear you.

PITT: (As Gen. Glen McMahon) OK, something's wrong here.

RJ CYLER: (As Andy Moon) All right. Can you hear us now?

JONES: (As Dick Waddle) I can hear you.

PITT: (As Gen. Glen McMahon) Can't hear a word you're saying.

JONES: (As Dick Waddle) No, no.

PITT: (As Gen. Glen McMahon) I'll talk to you later, Dick.

JONES: (As Dick Waddle) We need to finish.

CYLER: (As Andy Moon) I'm sorry, Mr...

PITT: (As Gen. Glen McMahon, laughing).

MARTIN: Actor Brad Pitt plays a revered but semi-clueless four-star general who's appointed to oversee the entire war effort in Afghanistan. Pitt spent some time talking to our co-host David Greene.

DAVID GREENE, BYLINE: So one question I had for the actor was what role comedy played here. He said it was a way to lure an audience in before confronting some harsh realities.

PITT: You know, there's the old adage that old men start wars and young men fight it. And now it's young men and women fight it. And I would say our film is funny until it's not, until the dial is turned to a more serious tone, till we get to the real repercussions for the troops who were actually having to follow these orders.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WAR MACHINE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) I can't tell the difference between the people and enemy. They all look alike to me. I'm pretty sure they're the same people, sir.

PITT: (As Gen. Glen McMahon) I understand it can be tough, son, but that's the job.

For me, what the film says predominantly is that if we are really supporting our troops, we owe them to ask them, you know, to question our tactics. You know, if this was Bill Belichick and he'd lost for 16 years, he'd be out of a job.

GREENE: New England Patriots coach, yeah.

PITT: Yeah, absolutely. And we would be - we'd be up in arms. We'd be questioning this. And there's some sense of removal.

GREENE: Brad Pitt was chatting with us along with the director of the film, David Michod, who said if there are moments that seem insensitive, well, there's a legacy there.

DAVID MICHOD: I mean, I think it's really interesting, the question of poor taste or whatever. It's like, you know, America, as we know, has a long and rich history of war comedy, you know, "Strangelove"...

PITT: "M.A.S.H."

MICHOD: ..."M.A.S.H." and "Catch-22" and, you know, I mean, even "Stripes."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "STRIPES")

ROBERT J. WILKE: (As Gen. Barnicke) Where the hell have you been, soldier?

BILL MURRAY: (As John) Training, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters) Training, sir.

WILKE: (As Gen. Barnicke) What kind of training, son?

MURRAY: (As John) Army training, sir.

MICHOD: In some ways, I think the fact that that genre has seemingly dried up I think speaks in some ways to the relationship that the society has generally to its military. You know, that you could build comedy out of World War II, for instance, because the military machine was so much a part of society.

Now, you know, it's over - the - in the decades since, that separation that's emerged between society and the military has had the effect of making it almost seem as if you cannot talk about the military with anything other than reverence in a way that would have been unthinkable back in World War II.

You know, and for me as an Australian, it's fascinating. You know, Australia has fought side by side with the United States in every major conflict since World War I, you know, where - literally wherever you go, we go. We were in Vietnam. We were in all of these kind of modern Middle Eastern excursions.

And, you know, and so, you know, in a way I feel like I have the privilege of an outsider's eye and yet also feel very entitled to speak as well, to have an opinion because, you know, this stuff affects the entire world.

GREENE: Now, this new film, "War Machine," is loosely based on a real general, Stanley McChrystal, who commanded allied forces in Afghanistan. The late controversial journalist Michael Hastings exposed McChrystal and his doubts about President Obama's war strategy, and the general was fired.

You had to wonder if Brad Pitt could relate to the general's journey from being on top to struggling with his public image. It's been a rough six months for the actor. He and his wife, Angelina Jolie, split up. There was reportedly this altercation on a plane between Pitt and his son. Pitt was cleared of any legal wrongdoing, but Pitt has been very honest about this being a period of introspection for him.

As much as this is a story about the, you know, the war in Afghanistan, I mean, it's almost a study of public image and perception. And you have an embattled general who falls from grace. You know, I read the long interview you did with GQ. And you've talked about these last months for you, the divorce and sobriety. I mean, do you connect with this character in some ways at this moment in your life?

PITT: I do have great empathy for him. You know, there's something that happens when you've been number one for too long. I think it's why empires fail. You know, we start liking the smell of our own stink I think the expression is. And we don't question ourselves. And it's that very lack of introspection.

Sometimes we have to, you know, we have to hit a wall to really understand. Again, it's when we've been doing the same thing for so long, it's easy to stop to question ourselves, so I guess you can make a correlation in that way, you know.

GREENE: No doubt, this has been one of the most productive and successful periods in Brad Pitt's career. His production company has taken on bold projects like "Moonlight," which won the Oscar for best picture. He became more interested in Afghanistan and "War Machine" after he visited Walter Reed, where wounded veterans fresh off the battlefield are treated.

PITT: Although they are handling it with great nobility and, you know, it was absolutely heroic what I saw there that day, their life is forever changed, and it really made me question why. Why? For what? You know, I saw it more as a father. And I think that we believe in our troops.

We want to support our troops. We can best support our troops by asking for - you know, to question this war that seems to be ongoing and the expenditure of our troops. And I don't think that comes from the usual players. I think that's got to come from the ground up.

(SOUNDBITE OF BADBADNOTGOOD'S "HEDRON")

GREENE: David Michod and Brad Pitt, thanks so much. Really appreciate it.

PITT: Thanks so much.

MICHOD: Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF BADBADNOTGOOD'S "HEDRON")

MARTIN: The film is "War Machine," and it's out on Netflix today.

(SOUNDBITE OF BADBADNOTGOOD'S "HEDRON")

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