By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Man Down finishes up by reminding us how urgent its subject matter is with this depressing, alarming description:
“One in five veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are diagnosed with PTSD. 200,000 veterans go homeless each night. Twenty veterans commit suicide every day.”
All the more reason, we respond silently, that this movie addressing such an imposing set of problems couldn’t have been more eloquent, more impactful, more coherent, and therefore more memorable.
Man Down is a scattered psychological military thriller, presumably set in a post-apocalyptic America, that examines the phenomenon of modern-day, combat-connected Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and the way we treat our returning military.
Shia LeBeouf plays Gabriel Drummer, a battle-scarred U.S. Marine who, along with his best childhood buddy and fellow Marine, Devin (Jai Courtney), has come home from a tour of duty in Afghanistan, found that something catastrophic has occurred on home soil, and is now desperately searching for his wife, Natalie (Kate Mara), and his son (Charlie Shotwell), whom Gabriel suspects has been kidnapped.
He really doesn’t know what’s going on and, frankly, neither do we, although we’re pretty sure that when Gabriel left for Afghanistan, he left Devin to look after his loved ones.
We further suspect that an attraction developed between Natalie and Devin and perhaps…well, who knows.
We do infer that something tragic occurred during a routine excursion in Afghanistan that landed Gabriel on the couch of one Counselor Peyton, a psychiatrist played by Gary Oldman, who conducts extensive therapy sessions with Gabriel in the hopes of drawing out of the shell-shocked Marine just what happened that left the little Drummer boy in his deranged condition.
Director Dito Montiel (A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, Fighting, Empire State, Boulevard), working from a script he co-wrote with Adam G. Simon, cuts back and forth between the wartime experience and present-day America in a way that keeps us confused for nearly the length of the film and in a way that indicates that he doesn’t really trust the story he’s telling.
LeBeouf and Courtney are sufficiently credible enough as Marines, but the overall lack of both character and story development is such that the third-act reveal not only annoys and disappoints but further confuses.
Eventually we realize that our confusion is not temporary, and that the shifting realities of this narrative, the pieces of this intended or accidental puzzle, will never really fit.
Which is when and why we stop caring – long before we are reminded of why we should.
Let’s face it: if the plot made more sense, if the shifting realities ever truly coalesced, we wouldn’t need the reminder.
Consequently, the feeling we are left with by the time the film has tucked all the narrative strands back in place after arbitrarily removing them is that what amounts to a national crisis has, for now, been turned over to a movie that is itself in well over its head.
So we’ll enlist 2 stars out of 4 for the fractured and muddled Man Down. Let’s hope this frustrating drama is far from the best movie we’ll ever get addressing the pressing issues and serious problems unique to veterans.