Dir: Dito Montiel
The first and only time I heard anything about Dito Montiel’s 2015 war drama Man Down was in the spring of 2017. It was released in the UK in one cinema, one screening and only one ticket was sold. It received absolutely no publicity. The media loved this, and commented on the downward spiral of Shia LaBeouf’s career – LaBeouf being the film’s leading actor. Personally I think LaBeouf’s performances are getting better and better and the roles and films he is choosing are unique and edgy. It’s like a guy puts on a brown paper bag over his head just once and the world just won’t let him get over it. I was actually motivated by his motivational internet video that everyone mocked. Whenever I feel apprehensive and uncomfortably challenged I hear his ‘Just do it’ words of wisdom and it genuinely helps. Yesterday I did say tomorrow, and that is today, and I’ve done a lot since think about this and that is to Mr. LaBeouf’s credit. Those familiar with my sense of humour may think I’m joking here but I’m not, I generally think the guy is okay. I also think his performance in Man Down is impressive, he really gives it all he’s got. The only problem with his performance is Dito Montiel’s shoddy direction. LaBeouf submerges himself into the role, I don’t know how method he gets but his tears seem authentic to me, he convinced me throughout. Montiel ruins it for him by turning the film into a cheap lie, a sudo-sci-fi mess full of pop-psychology and nonsensical twists, thus denying LaBeouf his integrity and the humanity he works so hard to deliver. Montiel’s films never begin well in my opinion, he’s won me over more times than not but there is a fine line between profound and utter garbage and I’m afraid Man Down leans towards the latter. However, there is a lot to enjoy and I have to admit the overall sentiment was made with good intentions. LaBeouf is superb, Jai Courtney is also good but his character isn’t that well written, leaving the actor in limbo which in turn allows the viewer to guess the ending. Kate Mara also suffers from having a poorly written character but she does the best with it as she can. Clifton Collins Jr plays something of a pointless character in my opinion, again badly written and it was a bit of a waste of the great actor’s time if I’m being honest. It is Gary Oldman who gets all the luck when it comes to dialogue. His role is simple yet integral to the film’s tone, indeed it goes downhill as soon as his scenes are over with, but he delivers each line with suspense and intrigue, with each word coming as a complete surprise. The chemistry between LaBeouf and Oldman in this scene is the best the film gets and I have to say if the rest of the film matched its intensity then it would have sold a hell of a lot more tickets and I’m sad that it has been so overlooked and unseen. Oldman has stared in some questionable films of late and I wonder whether Man Down has been shrugged off as another one of his mistakes. It’s better than Criminal by a country mile for anyone who is wondering, although the story becomes just as ridiculous. It’s not the idea or the conclusion that’s ridiculous however, it’s all to do with the poor execution, how the film begins and with all that is left out. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a scary thing, I think it can be explored without wandering into the realms of fantasy and sci-fi – not that that is technically what Montiel does, but it certainly does feel like it. The editing is horrible, the film jumps from one genre to another in a confusing non-linier fashion. The conclusion is predictable from the half-way point and isn’t rewarding when it does indeed happen, in fact, it comes across as farcical and it cheapens everything that was good about it. It’s all on Montiel on this one and as much as his films can irritate me, I hope he survives it. LaBeouf also deserves credit for what is impressive about the film, it’s way past the time he was given a bit of respect, he’s made mistakes but he’s a great actor and an interesting character, I’d rather watch him than most Hollywood mannequins.