There’s enough to admire in Dito Montiel’s “Man Down” that the film’s final reveal — a big fat slice of narrative cheese — feels like even more of a con job than it already is.
Montiel’s screenplay (with Adam G. Simon, who came up with the story) offers no fewer than six different “realities” for its Marine protagonist, Cpl. Gabriel Drummer (Shia LaBeouf).
The first of these realities unfolds in a post-apocalyptic near future. Here Gabriel and his Marine buddy and best friend Devin (Jai Courtney) pick their way through the ruins of an American city. Bearded and dirty, they are looking for Gabriel’s young son John, who may be the captive of a group of feral survivors.
There are flashbacks to Gabriel’s peaceful home life with his wife Natalie (Kate Mara) and little John (Charlie Shotwell). Gabriel will soon be shipping out, and he spends as much time as possible with his son. They even come up with their own military-style code words for “I love you”: Man Down.
Other passages are devoted to Gabriel and Devin’s basic training under the demanding Sergeant Miller (Tory Kittles), a sado-maso experience that will turn them into efficient fighting men.
One of the movie’s realities takes place in a dusty Marine outpost in Afghanistan where Gabriel is being counseled by Peyton (Gary Oldman), a military shrink. It appears that Gabriel has undergone a traumatic experience — and yet another “reality” depicts the day that Gabriel and Devin’s unit was ambushed by enemy fighters.
All these different threads are woven together in what is initially a confusing tapestry.
What does it all mean?
Those who stick with “Man Down” eventually will get answers. . . though not necessarily satisfactory ones.
A big problem is that one cannot say too much about the film without giving away the story. . . although a good many viewers will see well in advance where it’s all going. Think “A Beautiful Mind” and you’ll be in the ballpark.
The good news is that LaBeouf gives another solid performance to join those he’s recently delivered in “American Honey” and “Fury.” The guy goes from mundane normalcy to existential angst without breaking a sweat.
And Montiel (“A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints” and Robin Williams’s last film, “Boulevard”) shows in some of the flashback scenes a true eye and ear for the small epiphanies of everyday domesticity.