Have you heard that expression about the best way to approach life being this: take your work seriously, but never yourself? I think that sums up Shia Labeouf. He does weird things, says weird things, I’ve heard rumours that he’s a cannibal (ha ha). He’s a funny guy who seems to think the whole fame thing is a bit silly and should be poked fun at, and then he turns in a natural, confident and heart felt performance.
And that’s what’s really important in this film.
He plays US Marine Drummer, a man who has grown up with his best friend Devin (Jai Courteney), who also followed him into the army. And who has a beloved wife (Kate Mara) and son. That core set of relationships is the beating, bleeding heart of this film.
The story is split into three strands, the past, where we learn how close his family is and how he’s a loving father and husband, the present, where we know that something terrible has happened and he talks to his counselor (Gary Oldman). And then there’s the bleak future, where he and Devin wander through the wreckage of the city to try to find his son, in a world where something has wiped out almost all humanity. Will he succeed? Or is is son lost forever?
This film has some pretty average dialogue, and some really obvious plot points. It could easily be a pretty terrible film. But it’s not. It’s actually rather beautiful, though you’ll probably guess the plot twist fairly early on. Drummer so obviously loves his wife, Natalie, and they have a really genuine, sweet chemistry. Some of the best that I’ve seen on film for a while. Devin comes across as warm, funny and tough, the kind of best friend you want by your side whether in war or everyday life. And Drummer is a good dad, he listens to his child, and their conversations feel very real.
Without giving away too much, there’s a message at the heart of this film, and one that I feel a bit strongly about. In some ways, the ending of this film kind of subverts its intention, by making something terrifying and dangerous that really deserves compassion. It has some real melodrama in the final scenes too. Really laying it all on thick. But, I’m actually going to let that pass, because I got something out of watching this film. Because it has suspense and it makes you care.
The way it was shot is fantastic. The whole film has this hyper-real colour and filter to it, which looks a bit like a video game. As this is across all three story strands, it helps give the sense of something very bad coming, of looming darkness and heightened reality. Skies are dirty, even at Summer picnics. The end is nigh. It takes you out of the kinds of visuals you’d expect in the everyday, in a drama or family film, for example, and puts you in a darker reality that looks a lot like ours, but also isn’t. It’s a subtle thing but it works.
It’s not a game changing film, it’s not going to change your life either, but it has a lot of heart. It makes you care, and it draws you in with it’s twining narratives, delaying the gratification by piecing out the story. It’s functional as a thriller and as a war narrative, which are two genres that I particularly like, and though it has a message, it’s not preachy. ~
It feels low budget, it has it’s flaws, but on the whole, it’s a lot of fun.
Man Down is out in cinemas 31st March