Man Down full movie review - 'Man Down' Is Brilliant But Definitely Not Your Father's War Story
50 million Elvis fans can be wrong. They are in fact wrong. And so are the movie critics who have weighed in on Dito Montiel's Man Down.
The film uniquely provides viewers a glimpse?albeit uncomfortable and painful?into the mind of one who suffers from the mental illness that plagues so many of our veterans.
Bypassing the film's details, the transparent goal of Man Down is to have the viewer experience the effects of mental illness and suffering in real time and walk away with a newfound or increased sense of compassion. Thus,the movie unfolds in fragments and non-linearly. Backstory details of Drummer's experience before, during, and after his stint in Afghanistan are revealed disjointedly, confusedly, and painfully, just as they are revealed to Drummer in his current, broken state. But that backstory and the other characters (all of which are clearly allegorical, such as Gary Oldman's unassuming portrayal of a passive and ineffectual military psychologist who never even stands up from behind his desk) are all secondary to Drummer's mind. Although they are the purported causes and unfortunate objects of Drummer's current illness, they are also ultimately ancillary, fungible, and perhaps irrelevant to Drummer's current state, and deliberately so as the cast each performs their understated roles with precision. That is because Man Down is remarkably loyal to its one object: Drummer's suffering. It is this loyalty that betrays traditional story-telling and is perhaps what is both most offensive and terrific about the film.
With Man Down's object in mind, the viewer recognizes two aspects of the film that have been unjustifiably criticized. First is the film's structure. While critics acknowledge that the movie is intended to convey Drummer's point of view in his disconnected mental state, in the same breath, they ironically protest the fragmented nature of Dito Montiel's storytelling. That criticism clearly misses the mark. Because the movie's purpose is to have the viewer experience Drummer's world as he experiences it and to unravel the ostensible causes of his current condition at the same time they are revealed to him in fragmented fashion, the non-linear and disjointed plot structure are absolutely necessary to achieving Montiel and LaBeouf's ultimate goal: compassion. Although viewers have expressed dissatisfaction in the purported causes of Drummer's condition for various reasons?some have complained they are too abhorrent, some say they are taboo, and others object to them as insufficient justification?they are commonly cited causes of mental illness, and most importantly, they are the events to which Drummer's tortured mind clings unceasingly and replays constantly and are, therefore, sufficient to instill both shock and compassion in the viewer.
The second unfounded criticism is the parroted gripe that the film crescendos too abruptly at the end toward Drummer's current mental state. That criticism again misses the point of the movie. Man Down's montage at the end serves its object perfectly. If anyone has suffered from or has witnessed a loved one suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, she understands that the onset of an episode can be sudden and jarring, and almost dreamlike, especially in hindsight. Such is the effect of Man Down's montage, which LaBeouf musters convincingly.
In the end, Man Down is not out to make friends. Indeed, it leaves the viewer saddened, horrified, perhaps offended (no matter one's political affiliation), and looking to cast blame, which to date has largely been directed at Montiel, rather than a more worthy recipient like the beleaguered VA. As the movie makes clear: America has a problem, and we need to deal with it. Man Down leaves the viewer as shell shocked as its tragic antihero, which is clearly what it set out to accomplish. For that reason, Man Down should be lauded as a novel and successful departure from traditional storytelling.