Shia LaBeouf’s reputation for attaching himself to the risky and the unorthodox would suggest that this second feature-film collaboration with writer-director Dito Montiel (after Montiel’s debut, A Guide to Recognising Your Saints) would at least be excitingly odd, whatever else. But nothing could be further from the truth: Man Down turns out to be – by turns – uninteresting, treacly and chock full of war-movie cliches. Added to which, it’s evidence that shorn of weird or surreal superstructure provided by more imaginative directors, LaBeouf is a very ordinary performer indeed.
Montiel’s film proceeds in four different time-lines, which are abruptly shuffled in and out with no obvious point to the juxtapositions. In one, a bearded, hobo-ish LaBeouf is conducting some sort of guerrilla campaign in a derelict, apparently post-apocalyptic, urban landscape hunting for his kidnapped son. In another, he is a marine going through basic training and then out on risky patrol in Afghanistan. In a third, he enjoys a conventional family life with wife Kate Mara and small son. And in the fourth, he verbally jousts with military psychiatrist Gary Oldman, who is seeking to understand a fatal enemy contact during said Afghan war.
It’s hard to know what to make of this. It’s possible to see some value in what Montiel was aiming for – even though the payoff finale is borderline offensive in its implications – but the turgid progress it makes in getting there is utterly self-defeating.