After a two-year stint playing a real life crazy person, wearing paper bags on his head at red carpet events, videotaping himself viewing all his old movies live, riding on elevators with people and hitchhiking across America (plus so much more), I can only imagine Shia LeBeouf woke up one morning and realized he had bills to pay. So, he hopped on the first movie that would take him. It’s ironic, then, that he’s the one redeeming feature of Man Down — a movie so riddled with cliches and bad writing it’s like seeing a talented LeBeouf put on a powerful performance in a Hollywood purgatory, forcing him to pay penance for scorning them.
Directed by Dito Montiel and written by Adam G. Simon, Man Down follows former U.S. Marine Gabriel Drummer (Shia LeBeouf) who, in a post-apocalyptic America, is desperately searching for his son and goes into great detail of the past events that lead to him losing his son in the first place.
Don’t be mislead by the plot description. While I would love to spoil every last intimate detail to critique it, I won’t. The plot is perhaps the most misleading part and the most frustrating. It hinges on Drummer finding his son, but about three-fourths of the movie is all back story bogging this plot down. The story hops from one timeline to the next, with no focus on the plot.
It’s not until the beginning of the third act that a singular, climactic moment arrives and you realize you’ve been bamboozled. Except, instead of feeling an awe-inspiring, life changing moment you might expect from such a narrative turn, you’re left with a teeth-gnashing, fiery indignation. This turn is a cluster of frustrating cliches and a massacre of a story that could have been much better executed if only the writer would have just stopped watching M. Night Shyamalan movies.
For the most part, I’m fairly pragmatic when it comes to cliches. With the number of books, movies, and television shows being made today, conventions, tropes, and cliches are going to happen. However, I am amazed by the many lazy cliches they fit into this, especially in a genre that is entirely military focused. The themes are done much better in films like The Hurt Locker and American Sniper, and Man Down’s agenda is at the forefront rather than in its subtext, making the cliches that much more unbearable.
An easy way to make cliches forgivable is by focusing on character and digging deep into their motivations, their identities, their past and show the audience how they tick, giving everyone something to sink their teeth into — but Man Down doesn’t do any of this. All the characters are one dimensional and no information is provided of their past or worldview.
Despite the bad writing, it’s hard to deny LeBeouf puts on a emotional, nuanced and full performance that this movie or character doesn’t deserve. He is the only reason this movie has a leg to stand on. The character is hollow, in that we know nothing about him, but LeBeouf’s acting is able to take something from nothing, creating an appealing and empathetic person going through tremendous struggle and tragedy.
He especially shines in the scenes with young actor Charlie Shotwell playing Drummer’s son. While they didn’t have a lot of scenes together, when they do, they make the relationship natural, realistic, and enjoyable. This relationship, and the plot surrounding it, should have been the focus — but it is abandoned by cheap storytelling and gimmicks.
Photos Courtesy of: Lionsgate Premiere