It might be hard to believe based on his movies, but David Michôd isn’t all doom and gloom.
“I feel now quite zen about the impending void,” the “War Machine” writer/director said during a recent interview about his new Netflix drama starring Brad Pitt, which takes a farcical approach to the absurdities of our unending War in Afghanistan. It’s not that Michôd is optimistic about where things are headed — it’s just that he isn’t surprised.
Like a lot of movies, TV shows and books released in the last six-odd months, the “Animal Kingdom” and “The Rover” director’s latest feels especially timely given current events. Set in 2009 and based on Michael Hastings’ book “The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan,” it serves to remind that perception mattering more than reality is neither a new phenomenon nor one that shows any signs of going away.
“A few people have said to me recently, since the events of last November, ‘Wow, isn’t it strange that your movie feels so timely now?’” Michôd said. “My response to that is always, ‘Well, it’s still timely to me for 16 years, you know.’”
This new film represents a big jump for Michôd, at least on paper. His first two features premiered at Sundance and Cannes, respectively, and carried considerably smaller price tags. The seeds that “War Machine” eventually grew out of were planted even before “Animal Kingdom,” however.
“It really doesn’t feel that different to me from making the short films. Being on set feels just as adrenalized and nerve-racking,” he said. “If anything, on some level, making a movie of this size is a tiny bit easier, because there’s more support.”
Much of that support came from Pitt’s production company, Plan B Entertainment, which also had a hand in bringing “Moonlight” to the world. It wasn’t a new relationship.
“I’ve had a connection to Brad’s company for quite a long time, because Jeremy Kleiner and Dede Gardner, strangely and beautifully, sought me out before I’d even made ‘Animal Kingdom,’” Michôd said. The two of them had seen his short films and were interested in collaborating on a feature. Nothing came of it at the time — “I’m kind of glad it didn’t work out, because I was probably grossly unprepared for it” — but they never lost contact with each other.
Michôd would receive books from them in the years that followed, including, eventually, “The Operators.” He’d been “looking for a way into one of these contemporary theaters of war, and I was struggling. I didn’t want to make what I assumed I’d be making, which is some kind of super-dark poetic exploration of the horrors of war. It was when I started reading Michael Hastings’ book that I suddenly saw a different way in — and that way was something bigger, something crazier, something wilder and more absurd.”
Pitt plays Gen. Glen McMahon, whose no-nonsense real-life inspiration, Stanley A. McChrystal, resigned from his post leading the war efforts after Hastings’ damning article was published in Rolling Stone. This is a war fought on two fronts, with the press being nearly as important as the actual battlefield; the conflict is considered unwinnable from the beginning, but it isn’t a bullet or mortar round that brings McMahon down.
One aspect of “The Operators” that Michôd says stood out to him was the way it allowed him to explore “the absurdity and the almost necessary delusion of the functioning of the upper levels of the war machine. It felt important to me that, if I were to make this movie, it still on some level had to be about the horror of war.”
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