“Man Down” takes a very long time to show its hand.
It opens onto a post-apocalyptic cityscape, following two bearded soldiers as they make their wary way through streets lined with sepia-toned ruins. Then the picture jumps to an American combat base in present-day Afghanistan where an officer seated behind a desk (Gary Oldman) is quietly interrogating a Marine with a thousand-yard stare (Shia LaBeouf). Jumps again to scenes of LaBeouf’s character undergoing the rigors of boot camp. Jumps once more, this time to scenes of a pre-deployment LaBeouf sharing happy moments in an unshattered present with his loving wife (Kate Mara), his cheery towheaded young son (Charlie Shotwell) and LaBeouf’s best friend and comrade in arms (Jai Courtney).
Back to the ruins (apparently this is America after some unspecified catastrophe). Then Afghanistan. Then family time.
Back and forth.
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Back in Afghanistan, Oldman’s character, a counselor apparently, presses LaBeouf’s Marine to talk about a traumatic incident during a mission that has rendered the Marine suicidal.
And so on. Back and forth.
One wonders where writer-director Dito Montiel is going with all of this. The elements don’t seem to cohere.
Slowly, ever so slowly — too slowly — the picture’s purpose swims into view. Montiel is building a case that combat, particularly in the Afghanistan-Iraq war vortex, shreds the souls of its combatants.
By the time that becomes apparent, and the connections among the various seemingly disparate elements are finally revealed, the picture has long since lost the audience’s attention. Offering only an atmosphere of deepening gloom and a premise of utter hopelessness, “Man Down” is like movie antimatter: It repels interest.
Who would want to watch such a downer?
I haven’t a clue.
☆☆ out of 5
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Jai Courtney, Gary Oldman, Charlie Shotwell, Kate Mara, Clifton Collins Jr.
Director: Dito Montiel.
Running time: 1:30.
Rated: R, for some disturbing violence and language throughout.