If you’ve seen a lot of war films and are watching Man Down solely for this purpose, then it may not be the movie for you. It’s not just about war, but about the effects of war and the relationship between a soldier and his child. There is very little actual battle action. Most of the story takes place before and after, but somehow it still retains the feel of a war film.
It follows U.S. Marine Gabriel Drummer, played by Shia LaBeouf, and jumps around non-linearly as he goes through basic training, battles in Afghanistan, and dealing with PTSD after returning home.
It’s obvious that the writers had a great idea for this unique macro concept, but felt required to fill in the gaps with typical war-movie plot points–even feeling a bit by-the-numbers during those parts.
But the reality is this film has a lot to say. And it says a lot without actually saying anything. A victory in itself.
It’s not preachy, which a lesser film would have been. Sure, if it wasn’t for a commanding presence like LaBeouf, this movie would be a little more bland as it finds its way to the good parts. But as ordinary as the plot can get, the writing is never phoned in.
A film like this could have easily been confusing with its unusual narrative, but it’s easy to follow.
Shia’s transformation as Drummer throughout the movie is even more impressive as we can see evidence of it juxtaposed through the jumps in the timeline.
Nothing about Man Down feels like a bad movie. It’s really well acted, it’s deep, it’s technically satisfactory. Perhaps it’s a bit plodding at first. It just feels like an ordinary story about a guy in the military. You expect something big to happen, but it takes awhile. And then it grabs you in hard about halfway through.
I remember Shia saying a couple years back that he felt this was the best movie he’d done so far. And I can see why. It’s purposefully artistic, but also heartwarming and intense.
It’s definitely not a film for those who want a quick thrill. And if you’re the type of person who glances at Rotten Tomatoes scores ahead of time, then you’re going to be looking for something wrong with it. But in reality, it’s a movie that’s worth watching. Especially if you can relate. And especially if you go in with an open mind. Some people may still become impatient, but then they should probably just go watch another movie entirely.