Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Battle: Los Angeles (2011) – Review

Battle: Los Angeles is above all else a really entertaining sci-fi action war film. Director Jonathan Liebesman is not overly concerned with making a character drama, or really any of his characters have much of a backstory or real personality (aside from the main character), instead relying on tried and true genre clichés and character stereotypes. And most times this would be a mistake and take away from the film as a whole, but this movie is not about any of the characters, rather it is about the situation they are faced with. The drama of the moment and of the action takes hold of the audience. Liebesman structures the film to have a brief prologue showing quick character bits about the men the audience is to be following, just so they have a sense of who these men are – and sure this prologue plays heavily off typical scenarios of past war films, but it works and does not drag. After the prologue, the film is none-stop action (a bit like J.J. Abrams’s Mission: Impossible III). Liebesman is making a film purely about spectacle and entertainment – and at this he succeeds. The dialogue, however, is pretty tired and a little too cheesy, but the visuals and level of excitement and tension throughout do not really allow for the audience to dwell on it. Plus, this film is PG-13. If you are expecting realistic dialogue (something comparable to Generation Kill), the film would be R for sure, but still the dialogue certainly could (and should) of been better. Sure, the lame dialogue keeps this from being a great film, but it does not really hurt it too much either. Liebesman knows enough about narrative filmmaking to have one central character with a more fleshed out backstory, someone relatable to a higher degree, and the main character, SSgt. Michael Nantz (helped by the good performance by Aaron Eckhart) provides this for the audience. Liebesman also is able to shoot and stage his action set pieces very well. They are all intense and enthralling, completely commanding the attention of the audience, which is quite important, as action is the point of the film and to have it done so well, and everything look so good is a huge benefit to the film. A criticism of the film, though, is that all the members of the Marine Corps in the film are honorable men, there are no deviant or problematic characters at all, which is possible given the small size of the group, but not too realistic. But again, this is not that film. What makes it ok is that this is not a film about the U.S. Marine Corps fighting against another human enemy in a foreign country that most of them know nothing about and do not understand. This takes place in LA (home soil) against a universal enemy, and thus all the possible compassion and support is completely bestowed on the Marines (whereas, in something like Saving Private Ryan, it is humans fighting humans – each side with their strengths and flaws both moral and social). The continual action and suspense also eliminates, somewhat, the analysis of plot-holes, or elements of the film that do not seem to make a ton of sense – however I chose to take the film at face value and not over analyze every detail (I mean, if Aliens have huge space ships that can travel across our and their solar system(s), then they probably have the technology to wipe us out fairly easily, but again I take the events in the film at face value). The location of the film, Los Angeles, also gives the audience an immediate stake in the outcome, which again plays into the lack of character development, because it is not really needed. So while the film has bad dialogue, little character development or real people and questionable plot points, it is none the less a very entertaining and good film, as it is able to grab the viewer emotionally through its chilling visuals initially and then, through the very good use of tension and anticipation by Liebesman, hold on to the viewer until the last frame. The viewer completely buys into the spirit of the Marines – first in, last out. To some degree, this could be taken as a propaganda recruiting video for the Marine Corps, as they are shown in a very good and impressive light (which I have no issue with). All that being said, Battle: LA is a good film upon its first viewing – very exciting and action packed (though, I suspect some of the allure will wear off on multiple viewings due to some of its constructions pieces being in poor order).

Technical and acting achievements: director Jonathan Liebesman has made his best film to date, getting away from the horror genre (which typically seems to be a tough genre to make good films in). He definitely shows here that he can shoot action very well with Battle: LA and I look forward to seeing if he can rescue the Clash of Titans series from the rubbish bin with his work on the sequel (Wrath of the Titians). Composer Brian Tyler’s score works well with the drama of the film. The same can be said for Lukas Ettlin’s cinematography. Visually, the film seems to owe a lot of films like Black Hawk Down and the style of Paul Greengrass. Peter Wenham’s production design is very impressive. The sets and look of the film are fantastic and really draw the audience in. While the characters did not have much character work to do, there were still some good performances. Will Rothhaar and Michelle Rodriguez stood out in their supporting roles, and Aaron Eckhart was good in his leading role, which helped anchor the drama.

Battle: Los Angeles is not going to work for everyone, it has a few glaring issues. But taken as intended, it is a very gripping and engaging film about the triumph of human will. 8/10

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