Man Down (2016)

by - December 2nd, 2016 - Movie Reviews


Intriguing Man Down a Heavy-Handed Disappointment

U.S. Marine Gabriel Drummer (Shia LaBeouf) is searching for his son Johnnie (Charlie Shotwell). Alongside best friend and comrade in arms Devin Roberts (Jai Courtney), he is scouring the streets of a post-apocalyptic America, trying to piece together the events that led to this devastation while at the same time mourning his wife Natalie (Kate Mara) whom he believes to be dead. They have no idea what is going on or why things have turned out the way they have, their only real clues hinting at anything approaching answers leading all the way back to the pair’s time serving in Afghanistan, Marine psychologist Peyton (Gary Oldman) potentially the key to unlocking the truth.

PHOTO: Lionsgate Premiere

PHOTO: Lionsgate Premiere

Dito Montiel is not a subtle filmmaker. From his award-winning 2006 debut A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, to his highly flawed one-two Channing Tatum punch of Fighting and The Son of No One, to his 2014 collaboration with the late, great Robin Williams Boulevard, the director isn’t exactly known for keeping his melodramatic tendencies in check. While showing great skill with actors, he tends to play up the themes he’s chasing inside each and every one of his stories to the nth degree, beating the viewer over the head with a sledgehammer as he goes out of his way to make sure all his points are clear.

In this case, he and his co-writer Adam G. Simon, who also conceived the original story, are looking at what it means to be a soldier fighting in a war where the rules are not clear and the outcomes are constantly in doubt. They are consumed by how separation can affect a family and how brotherhood between those on the front lines can be tested in ways that are beyond unfathomable unless you’ve been there yourself. In the process, they ask how decisions made in the span of a handful of seconds can have everlasting consequences, changing how both one sees the world and how it, in turn, now views them, all of it coming full circle in the most unforeseen ways.

Problem is, the secrets Montiel and Simon are attempting to keep close to their chest until the last few minutes are clear to any viewer that’s even moderately observant, the clues the pair litter throughout their nonlinear structure pointing in a direction that can only mean a scant few things. I had the central conceit pegged long before the reveal, making the final third a close to insufferable bore only made palatable thanks to the commitment from the actors charged with giving all this nonsense some life.

But do they all ever commit, LaBeouf in particular. Say what you will about the actor’s off-screen antics, but when he gives himself over completely to a project his ability to vanish inside whatever role he’s portraying seems to know few if any boundaries. It happened with Lawless. It happened in Nymphomaniac. It happened in Brad Pitt’s WWII tank thriller Fury and it happened earlier this year in Andrea Arnold’s extraordinary American Honey. That he does it here as well isn’t so much a surprise as it is a saving grace, his unvarnished take on a psyche in cryptic chaos startling in its visceral intensity.

PHOTO: Lionsgate Premiere

PHOTO: Lionsgate Premiere

Yet Montiel doesn’t always seem to know how to make the most of his actors. He cuts back and forth between time periods and conversations almost as if at random, the director so intent on keeping things in an unhinged mania that he often sends the film down a path of nonsensical gibberish it can’t seem to wander off of. The scenes between LaBeouf and Oldman are particularly vexing, revealing far too much even when the dialogue passing between the two seems to say exceedingly little. More, the truths they lead to are heavy-handed and didactic, almost of if Montiel is so consumed with getting his point across he feels the need to spell it all out in bright flashy neon for those too dim to pick up on where it is all headed to.

Still, somewhat surprisingly, Man Down is seldom boring, and I can say it held my attention start to finish with very little in the way of effort. I just wish it all wasn’t so painfully obvious, because some of what Montiel and Simon are saying is well worth listening to. But it all ends up being for naught, and by the time the film was over I was almost angry I’d given it a look, the way it wastes fine performances from all involved and an intriguing premise ripe with possibility coming perilously close to being unforgivable.

– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle

Film Rating: 2 (out of 4)

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