Man Down, 2015.
Directed by Dito Montiel
Starring Shia LaBeouf, Jai Courtney, Gary Oldman, Kate Mara and Clifton Collins Jr.
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.
Man Down is the latest in a long line of disappointments from filmmaker Dito Montiel, who exploded onto the indie scene with 2006’s widely-acclaimed A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, and has struggled to recapture that same slice-of-life honesty in his five subsequent features. Sadly, his most recent effort, finally releasing some 18 months after its Venice Film Festival premiere, is probably his worst to date, and certainly his most creatively hapless.
Fleeting between the past and present, we follow Gabriel Drummer (Shia LaBeouf), as he reconciles his traumatic past serving overseas in the U.S. Army, and his current hunt for his wife and son, who have gone missing amid a devastating apocalyptic event in the U.S.
First of all, don’t be surprised if you’re confused for much of this film’s run-time. Montiel cuts between the more familiar – and frankly, better-executed – army shenanigans and the dour end-of-the-world madness so haphazardly it’s often hard to know which way is up, or why certain things are happening. What begins as irritatingly restless soon enough settles for tediously formulaic, as Montiel tries to have Drummer’s sortie in the Middle East reflect his present-day predicament.
Even though the war-time flashbacks are effortlessly superior, they still contribute to an overall moldy, old-hat “war is Hell” commentary, which adds little of interest to the undeniably crucial conversation, instead doubling down on a number of silly gimmicks that only theatricalise the troubling nature of PTSD.
Even on a mere production level, this is incredibly ropey stuff. Montiel’s cinematographer, Shelly Johnson, shoots large portions of the film through garish soft-focus and harsh lighting, all the more surprising given his experience shooting lavish war-time set-pieces in Captain America: The First Avenger. The visuals also feels overly post-processed for the most part, especially during the apocalyptic scenes, which have been almost entirely de-saturated for maximum eyesore potential.
All of this in a production that not only boasts the talents of Shia LeBeouf, but also Gary Oldman (as a concerned Army Captain), Kate Mara (Drummer’s wife) and the ever-underappreciated Clifton Collins, Jr. (a vagrant Drummer meets on his post-calamity travels). Summarily wasted doesn’t even begin to cover it, for aside from a few sharp exchanges between Oldman and LaBeouf, nobody’s able to bring much to the table.
At least LaBeouf, who was one of the highlights of Montiel’s debut feature, is absolutely giving it his all as usual, albeit somewhat misguidedly in a film that doesn’t at all deserve his presence. His work is also heavily undermined by a laughably predictable plot twist that’s revealed in groan-inducing fashion and lingers around to harangue the viewer until the end credits finally, mercifully roll.
What can ultimately be taken away from Man Down? War veterans aren’t treated well enough and post-service programs must be improved, but with such an abundance of melodrama verging on unintentional comedy, the well-intended message feels largely undermined.
At least there’s a little more proof here that Jai Courtney isn’t a terrible actor – yes, he appears throughout as Drummer’s Marine pal Devin – so that’s another positive. With Montiel’s last three movies seeing him working from other people’s scripts to increasingly diminishing returns, however, perhaps its high time he returns to a more personal well for the foreseeable future.
Beyond hardcore Shia LaBeouf acolytes, it’s difficult to recommend this poorly-wrought war drama to anyone with 90 minutes to spare and literally anything else to do.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.