Starring Shia LaBeouf, Kate Mara, Jai Courtney, Gary Oldman, Clifton Collins Jr.
Dito Montiel has certainly worked his casting magic again with latest film Man Down (no it’s not a sequel to the goofy comedy Man Up). Always just outside the realm of mainstream, the New York filmmaker was behind two Channing Tatum films A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints and Fighting. LaBouf also starred in ‘Saints’, Montiel’s first film. Following American Honey this summer (which received a slew of Indie Spirit Nominations) LaBeouf is finally working a comeback from his own psychological instability. The Indiana Jones actor almost sells this complicated character, his performance dedicated, but this script’s structure is too convoluted to have a strong impact in the world of military PTSD.
Gabriel Drummer (LaBeouf) sits at the desk of Marine Counselor Peyton (Oldman) to discuss “the incident” which has left the soldier distraught and suicidal. He remembers everything leading up to his time in the marines, including his wife Natalie (Mara) and son John, back at home. His “battle buddy” Devin Roberts (Courtney) by his side in life and war, was the casualty of Drummer missing a hidden shooter before clearing a room. It isn’t simply that he struggles with the loss of his best friend, but the life changing information that’s unveiled simultaneously. Following the incident, the counseling, Gabriel finds himself in a post-apocalyptic world where everything he knew is gone and through forgiveness and redemption, he must make his way back to the family.
While the film is a narrative disaster and structurally disjointed, you can certainly understand what Montiel hoped to achieve.
LaBeouf and the focus on PTSD in the military are Man Down’s strongest attributes. While the film is a narrative disaster and structurally disjointed, you can certainly understand what Montiel hoped to achieve. If you take away the genre elements, which are just for increased dramatic effect and suspense, there would have been more room to hone the mental issue at hand and explore more logic around something that effects millions of veterans. For instance, Oldman’s talent is nearly wasted as he is ineffectively stuck behind a desk in his segment, that only serves as a directional road map for the audience. What appears as three separate, and often confusing, time periods are the past, more recent past and the medicated psychological breakdown.
Because the narrative is such a jumble, with editing cuts in and out of storylines, Man Down cannot focus on this films important message. This is a major roadblock for audience emotional investment, beyond feeling sorry for such a troubled individual. Most of the time spent between Oldman and LaBeouf is our lead character refusing to talk about the incident, which is just a time stall for back story. Man Down wants to be a psychological thriller but is unable to commit to one narrative that produces retained investment. The non-linear storytelling method is a major road block that carries all the way to the conclusion. The text following the last frame is more effective than any images on screen.
There is an effective and emotional concept here that the filmmakers cannot make sense of.