Reviews

'Man Down' Has the Dubious Distinction of Going Nowhere in Three Different Directions

Shia LaBeouf in Man Down (2016)

Director Dito Montiel’s lack of subtlety cheapens a subject that calls for thoughtful examination.


Man Down

Director: Dito Montiel
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Jai Courtney, Gary Oldman, Kate Mara
Rated: R
Studio: Lionsgate
Year: 2015
US Date: 2016-12-02
UK Date: 2017-03-27
Website
Trailer

The new psychological drama Man Down doesn’t just try to tug at your heartstrings; it rips them out of your chest and beats them with a bloody sledgehammer. It’s hard to know whether to be angry, frustrated, or depressed after watching director Dito Montiel’s epic miscalculation about the mental toll of war. Thousands of veterans are afflicted by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and the psychic scars of combat.

Unfortunately, Man Down fails to find a compelling story to engage this urgent issue. Instead, it undermines the dilemma with lethargic pacing, two-dimensional characters, and a heavy-handedness that borders on insulting.

Gabriel Drummer (Shia LaBeouf) is a mumbling lunk-head who joins the Marines with his “battle buddy” Devin (Jai Courtney) so that they can kick some serious terrorist butt. Hopped up on patriotism and propaganda (Bill O’Reilly makes a weaselly cameo), Gabriel leaves behind his wife (Kate Mara) and young son (Charlie Shotwell) to join the fight in Afghanistan. He returns home from his tour to find that his family is missing and the world he knew has been decimated by a bio-terrorist attack.

Man Down has the dubious distinction of going nowhere in three different directions. Director Dito Montiel (Boulevard, Empire State) employs a non-linear timeline in order to stretch a 30-minute story into a 90-minute film. The first thread takes place in the office of Counselor Peyton (Gary Oldman doing his best with nothing), where Gabriel has been sent to discuss his feelings regarding some tragic “incident”. Substituting therapy sessions for character development has never been pleasing cinematically, but Montiel’s iteration is a sucking vortex of boredom.

The second thread takes place in a post-apocalyptic future. Gabriel prowls the streets looking for his missing family while growing a mangy beard that could shelter several woodland creatures. This CGI cityscape of sawed-off buildings and abandoned warehouses is so cheesy that Snake Plissken wouldn’t be caught dead here. Because Montiel and his screenwriter, Adam G. Simon, have no intention of revealing any details about this world, it’s impossible to care about (or even understand) what’s happening most of the time.

The final thread follows Gabriel in his transition from semi-attentive family man to hardened Marine. Unfortunately, his family life is less than scintillating. There is half-naked canoodling, unconvincing conversation and joking around the dinner table, and occasionally his wife begs him not to enlist. When Gabriel finally gets to basic training, we get the usual montages, including an exercise where the Grunts take a stream of pepper spray directly to the eyes. Again, so little effort is made to invest these scenes with tension that you’re left wondering when the movie is going to start.

Now imagine these three story threads mixed together through seemingly random edits… that’s the backbone of Man Down. The problem is that none of these storylines are particularly interesting. Each is packed with pointless scenes that generate no forward momentum or convey any useful information. On the rare occasion that something exciting does happen, like a percussive firefight in the streets of Kamdesh, the sloppy editing pre-emptively cuts to another dreary buzzkill. Montiel is so intent upon making a “serious” film that his storytelling ends up flatter than LaBeouf’s crewcut.

He also seems hazy on how humans actually talk. Listening to characters talk in Man Down is like watching a television interview that employs a five-second tape delay. Long pauses punctuate every line of dialogue, slowing the pace to a painful crawl. Nowhere is this more evident than the relationship between Gabriel and his wife. LaBeouf and Mara are both capable actors, but their stilted dialogue kills any potential chemistry.

Oldman, too, is hampered by the dialogue, as he and LaBeouf must communicate through a series of monosyllabic grunts and empty platitudes. More importantly, no one can reveal anything about the plot. Montiel has a big twist waiting in the final 15-minutes, so he’s content to twiddle his thumbs for the first 75.

It comes as no surprise, then, when the final twist feels completely disconnected from the film you’ve been watching. Minus three-dimensional characters and tension-filled scenes, this shocking conclusion comes across as manipulative and saccharine. Montiel goes so far as to superimpose images on top of each other, just in case you aren’t sure which emotions are appropriate for the moment. This lack of subtlety and craft inadvertently cheapens a subject that desperately calls for thoughtful examination.

Calling Man Down a cynical film is, perhaps, a bit too harsh. Yes, there's blatant product placement throughout, and the wacky conclusion feels more like a grab for the wallet than a punch to the gut, but everyone seems genuinely interested in the plight of wounded veterans. Innumerable lives and families are destroyed by the silent killer that is mental illness. It’s a shame, then, that Man Down tackles this monumental problem, only to fail as both entertainment and as a conversation starter.

2

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.