Man Down review – Shia LaBeouf is ordinary boy in boring and baffling war film

Man Down film still.

Shia LaBeouf’s reputation for attaching himself to the risky and the unorthodox would suggest that this second feature-film collaboration with writer-director Dito Montiel (after Montiel’s debut, A Guide to Recognising Your Saints) would at least be excitingly odd, whatever else. But nothing could be further from the truth: Man Down turns out to be – by turns – uninteresting, treacly and chock full of war-movie cliches. Added to which, it’s evidence that shorn of weird or surreal superstructure provided by more imaginative directors, LaBeouf is a very ordinary performer indeed.

Montiel’s film proceeds in four different time-lines, which are abruptly shuffled in and out with no obvious point to the juxtapositions. In one, a bearded, hobo-ish LaBeouf is conducting some sort of guerrilla campaign in a derelict, apparently post-apocalyptic, urban landscape hunting for his kidnapped son. In another, he is a marine going through basic training and then out on risky patrol in Afghanistan. In a third, he enjoys a conventional family life with wife Kate Mara and small son. And in the fourth, he verbally jousts with military psychiatrist Gary Oldman, who is seeking to understand a fatal enemy contact during said Afghan war.

It’s hard to know what to make of this. It’s possible to see some value in what Montiel was aiming for – even though the payoff finale is borderline offensive in its implications – but the turgid progress it makes in getting there is utterly self-defeating.

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