by George Wolf
Before it makes a hard left turn down Lifetime Lane, Man Down sets a decent hook. The cast is uniformly splendid, while director/co-writer Dito Montiel displays some effective understatement in the early going, establishing a confidence in the destination that he can’t quite reward.
Shia LeBeouf is outstanding as Gabriel Drummer, a Marine searching for his son in a near future ravaged by some manner of deadly outbreak. Teamed with fellow Marine and boyhood buddy Devin Roberts (Jai Courtney), Gabriel scours the terrain for any survivor who might have seen his little boy.
Slowly, Montiel weaves in the backstory, with flashbacks to bootcamp, a happy home life with wife Natalie (Kate Mara), dangerous patrols in Afghanistan and sessions with a Marine counselor (Gary Oldman) who gently pushes a shaken Gabriel to talk about “the incident.”
LeBeouf, regardless of his personal antics, can deliver the goods. Though his character’s arc isn’t presented in linear fashion, LaBeouf mines the resonant layers. Gabriel’s early naivete, hardened intensity and haunted conscience are all fleshed out, while the separate angles LaBeouf employs in intimate scenes with Mara and Oldman (both stellar) buoy all three performances.
Montiel (Fighting, Robin Williams’s final film Boulevard) again has fine intentions, but is too content to satisfy them with dated predictability. What he’s saying isn’t new, and how he’s saying it is even less so. You’ll most likely guess one major plot revelation early on, then sense the other coming with an “are we going there – yes, I guess we’re going there” type of dread.
There are interesting characters here and fine actors to inhabit them. They just need somewhere equally interesting to go.