Man Down

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I’ve seen Shia LaBoeuf on a lot of talk shows over the past few months, and it appears he’s got his act together. It’s just a shame this is the second disappointing movie I’ve seen him in in the past few months. Although that being said, his performances were good in those films (American Honey being the other).

This is the second time he’s teamed up with writer/director Dito Montiel (Fighting being the other).

The story involves a Marine named Gabriel (LaBoeuf) and his friend Devin (Jai Courtney), as they’re going through a post-apocalyptic city. In a flashback, we see Gabriel watching Bill O’Reilly at his son’s birthday party (if that isn’t a sign of the end times, I don’t know what is). Anyway, O’Reilly is talking about a virus. So we’re not quite sure what happened, as the narrative goes back and forth between the two time periods.

Seeing the spray painted graffiti of “America We Have a Problem” reminded me of one of the few things I disliked about Hell or High Water. Spray painted messages on walls that are supposed to be subliminal messages about the story we’re seeing — lame and distracting (Now, 12 Monkeys did a terrific job of adding to the narrative by doing this).

Gabriel is looking for his wife Natalie (Kate Mara) and son, and a few of the flashbacks are interesting. In one, we see Gabriel talking to his son about how he can deal with bullies at school. They establish a cute code for the meaning of “man down” (it makes it rather unnecessary to see the scene again at the end, as if we had forgotten this moment from an hour earlier),

We get the usual boot camp scenes, which have the usual cliches. The drill sergeant smacking around the grunts and making them run laps and crawl in sand.

There were some scenes with military psychiatrist Captain Peyton (Gary Oldman), which I was hoping would be better. Oldman is a terrific actor, and LaBoeuf was up for the challenge. The problem is that the scenes were a tad boring.

Character actor Clifton Collins, Jr. is always terrific, although he wasn’t in much of the picture.

It might have been interesting to see LaBoeuf in a beard in the post-apocalyptic scenes if he didn’t look so much like a young Fidel Castro with his green military hat on.

It might have also been a decent story on soldiers dealing with PTSD, if we were shown a bit more trauma that Gabriel had to endure. It wasn’t like he did multiple tours of duty, and saw lots of people gunned down. There seems to have been one incident involving a shooting that went wrong, and all of the sudden, he’s suicidal and delusional. My girlfriend even suggested a way to have had that scene done better to make it something that could mess him up mentally to think about.

The first half of the movie kept distracting me with acoustic songs where the vocalist was a bit too loud. It felt like I was watching a Bruce Springsteen video. Later the score just got schmaltzy. Combining the music with the dialogue just made the thing a bit heavy-handed.

This isn’t going to make anybody forget about Lone Survivor or American Sniper, or any number of war pictures we’ve seen previously.

It does employ an interesting little twist, but it was not enough to justify the entire film.

This gets 1 ½ stars out of 5.

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