Gabriel Drummer (Shia LaBeouf) had a good life. He had a wife (Kate Mara) and a son (Charlie Shotwell). He and his best friend, Devin Roberts (Jai Courtney) enlisted in the Marines. Then Gabriel’s unit is sent to Afghanistan.
After an incident in Afghanistan, Gabriel sees Counselor Peyton (Gary Oldman) to discuss what he has been through. After his session with Peyton, Gabriel is sent home.
When Gabriel returns to the States, he finds a barren wasteland. There are few survivors. Gabriel sets out on a desperate mission to find his missing wife and son.
Man Down can be a difficult film to watch for many reasons. First of all, the film bounces about between several different timelines. You must track the Drummer family during basic training and his initial deployment, the war in Afghanistan, Gabriel’s meeting with Counselor Peyton, and Gabriel’s search through the “post-apocalyptic” America. It can get tricky keeping track of which timeline you are on, what exactly is going on, and how everything is tied together.
I enjoy Shia LaBeouf. I even spent more time than I would like to admit watching the live feed of Shia watching all of his movies. His performance in this film is unlike anything I have seen from him. It is deep and powerful. I will even say that I shed a tear or two at the end. Charlie Shotwell, as Shia’s son Johnny, is the other stand out in the film. For such a young actor, with no major movie experience, Charlie gives an outstanding performance alongside Shia.
As I mentioned, the movie jumps around a bit between timelines. At times, it seems a little disjointed. While a bit off-putting at first, once the movie starts to resolve itself, which doesn’t happen until about 70 minutes into its 90 minute run time, everything comes together succinctly. The meandering stories tie themselves up quickly while not seeming rushed. It is an ambitious undertaking for director Dito Montiel (perhaps a bit too ambitious at times), but one that works relatively well overall.
There are some stereotypical movie clichés, several that occur in almost every movie of this genre, that crop up. They are easy to spot, and you will see them coming from a mile away. These are mostly forgivable, as they are probably everyone in Gabriel’s position greatest fear, and likely relatively common. In addition, many of the scenes, particularly the sweeping landscape shots of the ravaged city Gabriel returns to, are obviously CGI-enhanced. While this is a bit distracting and a bit overused, it doesn’t take away from the narrative too much. And the narrative is what is ultimately important in this film.
Man Down is a movie you have to experience on your own, hence the intentionally vague review here. It is not without its faults, but it is a powerful and moving film, once it gets where it is going. The acting from LaBeouf is excellent. This could be the revival of his acting career. It is worth seeing, even if you wait for it to be available at the RedBox.