Directed by: Dito Montiel.
Written by: Adam Simon.
Starring: Shia LaBeouf (Gabriel Drummer), Kate Mara (Natalie Drummer), Jai Courtney (Devin Roberts), Gary Oldman (Captain Peyton), Clifton Collins Jr. (Charles).
Man Down is a film that never settles down long enough for what could conceivably have been a powerful story to truly have an effect on the audience. It jumps back and forth in time, seemingly for no rhyme or reason at times, other than conceal information that most in the audience already would have guessed anyway, so it can try to pull the rug out from under you in the final act. This is so clumsily handled however, that it never really works. It doesn’t help that other than a very committed Shia LeBeouf (who may not be good in the movie, but he’s certainly something), everyone else in the film appears as bored as the audience is. The result is a messy, clumsy, cheap looking film that feels far longer than its 90 minute runtime.
The movie centers on Gabriel (Shia LaBeouf), a US Marine who we see at various times in his life over what is probably only a couple year period. There are scenes of him before he joins the Marines, with his wife Natalie (Kate Mara) and their young son, there are scenes of him at basic training, alongside his childhood best friend Devin (Jai Courtney), scenes of the pair of them fighting in Afghanistan together, scenes of Gabriel talking to an army shrink (Gary Oldman), about some sort of “incident” we are sure will explain everything when the film finally decides to let us in on the secret (and we’re right!), and there’s scenes back home in America, after something has wiped out most of the people, and Gabriel and Devin are searching for his wife and child. There doesn’t appear to be much rhyme or reason to how the scenes are edited together – just as long as they provide as little information about anything that has actually happened to audience to keep them on their edge of their seat as possible for as long as possible.
Through it all, Shia LaBeouf’s unhinged performance is at the center of nearly every single shot of the film – and you have to admit, LaBeouf is really giving it his all in this performance. Unfortunately, LaBeouf lets the audience see all of that effort going into the performance – it’s the kind of twitchy, manic performance that gives method acting of this sort a bad name. Like the movie itself, LeBeouf never settles down long enough to create a complete character – it’s all just nervous energy and ticks. To be fair, that is preferable to what everyone else in the movie appears to be doing. Gary Oldman has made other paycheque movies – but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him more disinterested in a performance before. He spends his entire performance seated, and looking at LaBeouf with feigned concern, that I believe in the context of the movie is supposed to be genuine, but comes across as fake. Kate Mara is saddled with the role of one dimensional wife/mother and there is little she can do with it – especially a late movie twist that appears to come out of nowhere for her character. And once again Jai Courtney proves why I keep referring to him as the poor man’s Sam Worthington – I don’t think I need to say much else about that.
The film was directed by Dito Montiel, who has been a strangely prolific director in the past decade for someone who hasn’t really had a big critical or commercial hit. On one level, I have to admire Montiel – much like his star, he’s giving it his all behind the camera, trying to tell what he clearly thinks is an important story – especially considering how heavy handed he gets in the last act, which literally calls says at one point “America, We Have a Problem”. On another though, the result is so shoddy, so haphazard and cheap that it angered me. I don’t mind twist ending – if they’re handled well. I do mind when films seem to arbitrarily be holding back informantion for no other reason than to shock me in the end. That really all Man Down has going for it. And it’s why it’s one of the year’s worst films.