Man Down, 2017.
Directed by Dito Montiel.
Starring Shia LaBeouf, Kate Mara, Gary Oldman and Jai Courtney.
A former US Marine returns home after a traumatic tour of duty in Afghanistan and finds an America that’s just as much a battlefield as the country he’s left.
“America, we have a problem!” is scrawled in red paint across a ruined building. If it’s the message of Dito Montiel’s Man Down, it’s sorely lacking in subtlety. Which means it’s right at home here.
The film aims to lift the lid on a major issue, both in the States and over here, that of PTSD among war veterans. According to the captions at the end, one in five of American soldiers suffer from it, 20,000 war veterans sleep rough every single night because they have nowhere else to go and every day 20 veterans commit suicide as a result of the condition. The focus is on ex-Marine Gabriel (Shia LaBeouf), who’s been deeply affected by one particular incident on his most recent tour of duty.
But for most of the film that doesn’t seem to be the story we’re being offered, and the result is total confusion. We witness Gabriel going through his training and preparing to leave his wife, Natalie (Kate Mara) and son Johnny (Charlie Shotwell). His experience on a tour of duty in Afghanistan, which involves his lifelong friend Devin (Jai Courtney). A session with a military councellor (Gary Oldman) at the Marine base. And, most perplexing of the lot, is the one which starts off the film, a post-apocalyptic America, a country has become a battle ground just like the one he’s come from and where he’s rescuing his son.
All is made clear in the final ten minutes. The aim is to show us the world through Gabriel’s eyes, but it’s done in such a rush and with so little conviction that it leaves an iffy taste in the mouth. Worse still, you worked it all out for yourself some time ago. PTSD is a tough subject matter and one that’s worth exploring seriously but, by the time the explanation comes along, it’s too late in terms of involvement with the story or the characters. Director Montiel, who also co-wrote the script, has either over-thought how to bring the story to the screen or is just being showy. Either way, it doesn’t work.
The other reason you don’t feel involved is that the characters aren’t written with any depth. The cast are on a hiding to nothing and even the best efforts of LaBeouf and Oldman aren’t enough to keep its head above water. Their two-handers are the most satisfactory scenes in the film: Oldman’s sad eyed counsellor clearly has issues of his own and isn’t unsympathetic to Gabriel’s problems. But, as they shake hands at the end of their session, he knows he’s failed to save the young Marine from himself.
Man Down is all over the place. Confusing to the point of irritating and clumsy in its delivery, it’s detached and does little to garner your sympathy. It shoots itself in the foot. Over and over again.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★