Is it possible for a film to feature a fiercely committed performance, and still be almost completely unwatchable? Of course – just like anything else. But it takes an unusual set of circumstances for a truly magnetic performance to be completely drowned by a true disaster. For your consideration, I nominate Man Down for just this kind of disaster.
Man Down follows Marine Gabriel Drummer (Shia LaBeouf) through three storylines: his journey to Afghanistan and back, through a session with a military therapist (Gary Oldman), and in a post-apocalyptic future where Drummer wanders with his best friend Devin (Jai Courtney).
Without getting too heavy into spoilers, Man Down is ultimately about the traumatic effects of war, and the film wants to make some noble statements about those effects. Weaving through its three storylines haphazardly, though, is just some obfuscation to cover how slim a story writer/director Dito Montiel has created here. Both visually and narratively, this is a mess, and a third-act twist that’s meant to shock is both fairly easy to guess and only makes the film shift from being a certain type of bad movie to a different type of bad movie.
While he can’t save it, credit has to be given to Shia LaBeouf for at least acting the hell out of his role. His performance is remarkably believable because he commits to the role. Unfortunately, his performance here is wasted on material that doesn’t warrant his efforts. I applaud LaBeouf’s efforts to find interesting roles, but I can only hope he finds material worthier of his talents again soon.