Man Down, 2015.
Directed by Dito Montiel.
Starring Shia LaBeouf, Kate Mara, Jai Courtney, and Gary Oldman.
In a post-apocalyptic America, former U.S. Marine Gabriel Drummer searches desperately for the whereabouts of his son, accompanied by his best friend and a survivor.
There’s a twist late on in Man Down so gob-smackingly insincere and unearned that it caused clearly audible cursed mutterings. The previous 80 minutes had been a turgid, maddeningly irksome post-apocalyptic road movie with umpteen detours to meat-headed flashbacks all with the aesthetic of a Syfy level production. Then as the rug is pulled, what was once little more than a rather dull, if well performed, straight-to-video, wholly forgettable bargain bin flick, transcended all sense of self-worth becoming something truly hypocritical and disingenuous.
Plotting, of which there is a hell of a lot, is messy and trivial. Shia LaBeouf stars as Gabriel Drummer, an all American patriot who alongside his best friend Devin Roberts (Jai Courtney) join the U.S Marines. Told parallel, are flashes forwards to a meeting between Gabriel and Gary Oldman’s Counselor Peyton following a botched routine raid, the routine raid and a wealth of training montages. These plot points are framed as further flashbacks.
The third, and messiest, least sensical piece of plotting finds Gabriel and Devin wandering through post-apocalyptic America in search of his son. Exactly what caused this world-destroying cataclysm is an after-thought and is touched on only briefly.
Amidst the mess of tangential thoughts come further pieces of plotting ranging from adultery, relationship breakdowns, a father son relationship and the complexity of modern warfare.
Director Dito Montiel – who made the underrated A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints in 2006-struggles to find balance between the tougher, onerous broadly political fare and the all fluff, lawless laborious fare of the gristly post-apocalypse. At just 90 minutes, it strives for equilibrium but achieves something schizophrenic and frenetic in it’s wildly stumbling, hysterically misjudged juggling of inconsequential ideas.
For the film then to have a group of well-weathered performers all of which should have known better further confuses. Gary Oldman appears intermittently as Gabriel’s counselor and clearly shot his scenes in a day after stepping right out of bed whilst Kate Mara grapples with an unforgiving matriarchal role.
Hot off the back of a career high performance in Andrea Arnold’s exemplary American Honey, LeBeouf brings just enough grit and commitment to muddy the waters. Whilst the film is at it’s most arch, he somehow manages to almost ground it. Even Jai Courtney, long the whipping boy of critics, puts in a respectable performance in a role again underwritten.
Aesthetically the film is nothing short of ugly. Veteran cinematographer Shelly Johnson struggles to find dissonance between the past and the future, resulting in a post-apocalypse marred by unseemly, flat CGI backdrops. Even the colour palate is vulgar, all murky yellows and sewage water browns.
Then there’s the twist. Oh the twist. So misjudged and opulent in its disregard of self-respect and sense that it’s almost to be applauded. Dito Montiel tries so desperately to give the film a grand moral but misses the mark by such a distance.
Man Down is more than simply manipulative. It’s aggressively disingenuous, ham-fisted and wholly unpleasant with the faux-existential profundity of a leering inebriated frat boy.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★