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Watch: Brad Pitt is an idealistic 4-star general in the trailer for Netflix's War Machine

The star-studded, Afghanistan-set farce is the semi-fictional tale of a commander in over his head.

Brad Pitt as Gen. Glenn McMahon in War Machine.
Francois Duhamel / Netflix
Alissa Wilkinson covers film and culture for Vox. Alissa is a member of the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics.

The trailer for Netflix’s War Machine — launching exclusively on Vox — has arrived. The film, which premieres on Netflix and in a few select theaters on May 26, features a whole constellation of luminaries, including Brad Pitt, Tilda Swinton, Sir Ben Kingsley, Lakeith Stanfield, Anthony Michael Hall, Topher Grace, Emory Cohen, and Scoot McNairy.

Written and directed by David Michôd, War Machine is based on The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan by the late BuzzFeed reporter Michael Hastings, who wrote the Rolling Stone exposé about Gen. Stanley McChrystal in Afghanistan that got the general fired. The Operators, written after that article was published, follows American soldiers as they plot, party, and fumble while trying to rebuild Afghanistan. The book was optioned by Pitt’s production company, Plan B, which has also produced movies like Selma and The Big Short, as well as three Best Picture winners: 12 Years a Slave, The Departed, and Moonlight.

War Machine positions itself as a farcical tale starring a fictional character, but it’s clearly based in reality (Netflix describes the film as “part reality, part savage parody”). Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, confident four-star US Gen. Glenn McMahon — based on McChrystal — gets in over his head when he’s brought in to command NATO forces in Afghanistan and “finish this thing.”

In the trailer, Pitt tells Kingsley (playing Afghanistan’s president) that he and his men want to take things in a “new direction: we build Afghanistan into a free and prosperous nation.”

“Sounds a lot like the old direction,” Kingsley replies.

That a film like War Machine, headlined by Pitt and a massive, popular cast, is bypassing theaters and going straight to Netflix seems to be an indication that the company is staking a big claim in the movie market, especially after rival Amazon took home two Oscars — Best Actor for Casey Affleck and Best Screenplay for Kenneth Lonergan — for Manchester by the Sea in February. Netflix has built a reputation for its Emmy-winning TV offerings such as House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black, but is still trying to capture the feature film market. In the meantime, it’s earning a reputation for pushing up prices as it gambles for content, adding up to billions of dollars of investment in programming.

It doesn’t seem too likely that War Machine, released so early in the year, is making a serious play for the awards circuit — though its planned theatrical run will technically make it eligible. But with such big-name talent, it’s likely part of Netflix’s strategy to attract more original feature films to its platform.

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