Why Brad Pitt's 'War Machine' Film Nixed Its Gen. McChrystal Character

Gone is the infamous four-star general, with Pitt's character reconfigured as the fictitious Gen. Glenn McMahon.

On Wednesday morning, Netflix debuted the first trailer for its $60 million Brad Pitt-led film War Machine. But the 45-second promo raised one major question: What happened to Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal?

Pitt was supposed to play the infamous four-star general in the film, but the character has been reconfigured as the fictitious Gen. Glenn McMahon. A War Machine source says the project pivoted away from the real-life depiction in an effort to avoid potential legal headaches.

In 2013, Pitt's Plan B began developing the late Michael Hastings' controversial best-seller The Operators as a star vehicle. During its four-year journey to the screen, the David Michod-helmed film's title morphed into War Machine and shifted tonally from drama to Wag the Dog-esque satire.

But it remained very much the story of McChrystal, whose unflattering remarks about Vice President Joe Biden in a Hastings Rolling Stone article led to his demise. After the Rolling Stone article published in 2010, then-President Barack Obama called McChrystal back to Washington and accepted his resignation as commander in Afghanistan. McChrystal was replaced by David Petraeus in the role.

Depicting a real-life person in a film can be tricky and has sparked legal action or bad press with numerous films from David Fincher's The Social Network (a leaked Sony email indicated that subject Mark Zuckerberg tried to stop the movie) to David O. Russell's Joy (entrepreneur Joy Mangano's differences with Joy were eventually resolved, and she received executive producer credit).

But if the War Machine filmmakers were looking to dodge those problems, they never bothered to ask McChrystal for his blessing. A source close to McChrystal says the general was never contacted by Netflix or Plan B nor did he ever threaten to take legal action over using his name in the film. But another source says that Michod, who also adapted the screenplay, wanted to be able to take creative liberties with the satire and could do so more easily with McChrystal not named.

War Machine still offers a behind-the-scenes portrait of military commanders and their high-stakes maneuvers, with the book's main elements, including McCrystal's ill-fated comments about a vice president, still intact.

The film is produced by Plan B's Jeremy Kleiner and Dede Gardner, who are coming off their best picture Oscar win for Moonlight, alongside Pitt and Ian Bryce.

Netflix declined to comment.