We need more directors willing to take risks with films like Get Out.
PTSD is a real, national crisis. It is something that is not openly discussed enough nor adequately handled by our government and those in charge of taking care of our veterans. The number of homeless vets and those suffering from PTSD in silence should be a priority for a country that wants to call itself civilized. None of these facts make Dito Montiel’s “Man Down” a good film. Actually, the fact that it uses PTSD as a hook, as something to give its drama a sense of weight and importance that it doesn’t otherwise earn, is one of its many problems. If you’re going to make a film about PTSD, treat it with the respect it demands, not as a clichéd, melodramatic device. By doing so, one actually damages the cause they claim to be attempting to defend, turning something serious into something manipulative. “Man Down” is a bad film, but it’s made even worse by the taste it will leave in your mouth regarding its silly handling of a very serious issue.
Montiel's latest takes place in what appears to be four separate periods in the life of Marine Gabriel Drummer (Shia LaBeouf). We see him with his buddy Devin (Jai Courtney) in a post-apocalyptic future, as the pair tries to track down Gabriel’s son Johnathan (Charlie Shotwell), crossing paths with a drifter named Charles (Clifton Collins Jr.), who may know where the boy has been taken. The landscape they cross is desolate and empty. Where are they? What happened to Johnathan? What happened to everyone else? It's purposefully vague and confusing.
We flash back to basic training, featuring scenes so dense with military clichés they should have all been set to “Fortunate Son.” Working slightly better as drama, we experience an extended conversation between Gabriel and a superior, played by Gary Oldman, that seems to take place after the young man has become a Marine but before the world ends. This scene as a whole is far and away the film's best as it escapes the plot and allows the two actors some semblance of character. Without it, the movie would verge on unbearable. And then we flash back further to Gabriel’s life just before joining up, in which we meet his wife Natalie (Kate Mara) and enrich the bond between Gabriel and his son.
The haphazard, choppy editing of “Man Down” is designed in such a way to replicate the confusion and twisted reality associated with PTSD, but its effect is opposite in that it feels entirely like cheap, manipulative devices instead of anything insightful about the human condition. “Man Down” is one of those scripts that plays games with viewer awareness, forcing us to ask what’s real and what’s not, and keeping a mystery what happened to Gabriel’s son or while he was serving our country. Consequently, there are no real people in “Man Down.” There are no characters. There are merely cogs in the plot device machine.
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