Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Battle: Los Angeles

Marine Haste, Repent At Leisure

Battle: Los Angeles US 2011
Directed by Jonathan Liebesman
Playing at cinemas now.

Given the fact that Battle: Los Angeles is fairly long, light on plot and character development, full of macho posturing, jam-packed with humongous explosions and possibly has more bullets flying around on-screen during the course of its running time than you could possibly attempt to keep track of or shake a stick at in a real life skirmish... I am very surprised to say that I really loved Battle: Los Angeles.

Shot with a 100% hand-held shaky cam sensibility, the feel of this movie is almost verity without going to the extreme first-person shenanigans of recent movie like Cloverfield and the REC series (all of which I liked, for the record). This film is in no way trying to claim that it’s found footage or archival footage and it uses multiple viewpoints where, frankly, no cameraman would risk his or her life if the events occurring on screen were to actually be taking place. Similarly, the director is not beyond using a pretty good, thundering soundtrack (courtesy of Brian Tyler) to help push home the emotional context of scenes and comment on the action as it would be used in most any other movie.

In short then, the language of the hand-held verity type shot has been brought back into the context of the semiotics of film in general (well yeah, it never actually left) on this movie and therefore it doesn’t get overburdened with the need to justify each and every change of pace or location with an eye to the source camera. Instead, this movie never loses sight of it’s intention to bring a rollicking boy’s own war story into the laps of the audience and most of the time it never really fails to live up to that promise with it’s Saving Private Ryan VS Aliens take on the subject material.

There’s not much in the way of character development other than a very clichéd script which sets everybody up at the start and then brings in some very trite bonding moments later on in the film. What both amazes and amuses me is that, considering the lack of well written dialogue in the picture, the director managed to assemble a cast that are all very good at their craft and even found room for a couple of very well know and superb performers to deliver some rather cringe worthy dialogue in some places. Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez and Bridget Moynahan are all excellent and surprisingly efficient in this movie... and seriously, hats off to Eckhart for genuinely getting me to believe in him as a marine... even if he’s a marine on “his last training detail before he retires”. Yeah, you heard that last bit right. See, I told you the film had terrible clichés in it. I know it wasn’t just me because some guy in the row behind started laughing in the middle of what was mostly trying to be a very “male-bonding” and touching moment. Great stuff.

But none of that really matters because the majority of the film is like all those battle scenes that you see in Saving Private Ryan. Not as fast film stock as it could have been but very choppy and chaotic in some places which makes you feel much more like you are actually there experiencing these things with the characters than you might if you were watching something else that claims to put you right in the picture but really, unless you’ve got your head tilted at the right angle, just gives you eye ache more often than not. Hmm... wonder what phenomenon I could be thinking of there then?

And the starling thing was, even though the characters are hollow and one dimensional and have, in some places, some quite laughable dialogue, the film is shot so intensely that I really cared about the fate of a lot of these characters. And it’s a very bleak film for the most part with ultra-tension creating sequences of suspense and high-octane nerve shredding as you wait for the enemy forces to slowly pick off “our team” one by one. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I had such a high investment in the characters as I was watching it... this film has a high mortality rate in terms of the poor human marines and civilians who are flung together in the face of adversity.

Battle: Los Angeles is about a tiny group of Marines sent to get a few suspected survivors out of an evacuated area of Los Angeles within the first hours of our planet being invaded by nasty aliens. The goals and mission objectives are set and we are told right from the start that we are losing on the ground but that the aliens have no proper air fleet and so the US rule the air... and once they’ve given you that little crutch, after a little while they take it away again and we are left feeling even more hopeless in the face of alien death and destruction. And then the guns really come out to play... this really is an intense little movie and about the only thing that spoils it... apart from the unbelievable dialogue in some of the calmer scenes, is the fact that after it’s been getting bleaker and bleaker for most of the film and you are expecting the credits to roll on a downer... after the mission is completed, a second mission is quickly taken on which has the potential to turn the tide of battle. I think the last 20 minutes or so of the movie where Eckhart, Rodriguez and a few of the others sort out a plan to kick some serious alien butt was probably tacked on to the end of the script to leave audiences with a sense of hope after the end credits roll... but it’s not really something that strengthens the film any.

Ultimately though, Battle: Los Angeles is a competent, if cliché ridden aliens VS marines movie and I liked it so much it’s definitely going to be a DVD purchase for me when the time comes. And besides... Eckhart’s always good to watch. Give it a go... you might surprise yourself.

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