Boasting one stellar performance and little else, Man Down pays little more than tacit lip service to PTSD, a condition deserving of more respect. Martin Carr takes a closer look at Dita Montiel’s ponderous effort…
There is a central conceit to Man Down which feels lazy and ham fisted. Focusing on the hunt for his wife and child in a post-apocalyptic America, multiple flashbacks fill in the blanks which make up Gabriel Drummer’s background. Portrayed with a passion and method that Shia LeBeouf brings to many of his roles, he commands the screen throughout giving depth where there is none to found.
Primarily the problem with Man Down is that every other character from wife Natalie through to psychologist Peyton is underwritten. Both Kate Mara and Gary Oldman fight for screen time in a film which has serious intentions, but chooses to explore them using trite and shoddy methods. Part of the issue is the method of exposition which director Dita Montiel has chosen to employ.
Bouncing between conversational two handers with Peyton and flashing back to meeting, marrying and fashioning a history through Drummer’s recollection of Natalie diminishes drama and interest. Oldman, who is consistently good in everything he does, gives us a character with no defining feature. His performance is engaging but Peyton remains constrained to the limitations of a plot device. Similarly Mara’s Natalie although given slightly more to do and react off of, feels hugely under developed, stereotypical and adequate at best. Let me stress this has nothing to do with Kate Mara, that blame rests squarely behind the camera.
Bringing me to Jai Courtney’s Devin Roberts – best friend and confidant for Gabriel in both past and present – who fulfils the prerequisites of a copybook ally with an agenda, deviating little from his shady henchman persona as showcased in Jack Reacher. Plus he is no match for LeBeouf at full throttle in either unhinged war veteran mode or single tear scene-stealer method moments. Whether in dialogue scenes with Oldman or elsewhere he remains the focus of this film, making Man Down worthwhile for no other reason.
In terms of subject matter there are those who have had issue with the portrayal of certain elements here. For me the twist remains its central failing. PTSD as a condition has been explored using more subtlety, eloquence and style than anyone can muster in Man Down. As soon as certain scenes play out it becomes apparent what is happening and this left me feeling upset. Not because Man Down had thoughtfully examined PTSD and its effect in a conscientious and evolved manner, but rather by employing sledgehammer tactics for stylistic purposes.
There is no doubting the integrity of those involved and the acting talent who obviously felt Man Down had something new to say. However the end result, whether through studio interference or otherwise, has produced a ponderously slow, confused and shallow movie held together by one great performance, paper thin supporting roles and a tactless pay-off. In the final analysis the film pays little more than tacit lip service to a condition deserving of more respect.
Written by Martin Carr
Directed by: Dito Montiel
Written by: Adam G. Simon
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Jai Courtney, Gary Oldman, Kate Mara, Clifton Collins Jr.
Top 10 Films reviewed Man Down courtesy of Signature Entertainment. The film is released in UK cinemas and Digital March 31 and on DVD/Blu-ray May 22.