Mar 17, 2011

Review: Battle: Los Angeles

The platoon on red alert in Battle: Los Angeles. Photo © Richard Cartwright
Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Release Date: 17 March 2011
Rating:(M) (Science fiction violence and coarse language)
Runtime: 116 mins (really? Because it felt like longer) 

Here's what we would have liked to be able to say about Battle: Los Angeles: 
"Despite the formulaic, blow 'em up and cuss 'em out Hollywood trailer, Battle: Los Angeles has far more to offer than your standard alien invasion movies." But in fact, the opening moments, shot in a gritty cinema verite style, are misleading in terms of the quality and innovation one can expect.

Directed by Jonathan Liebesman, Battle: Los Angeles follows Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz, a battle-scarred and aging Aaron Eckhart (everyone's favourite bastard, ala Thank You for Smoking and The Dark Knight), who's due for retirement following some rough tours of duty and a long, if not always illustrious career. Pause for a minute. What's that we hear? Staff Sgt. Nantz is being pulled away from the clutches of retirement because of sudden, impending doom? Well of course he is! 

We appreciate the good intent that the film rolls with in the beginning: the attempt to focus on the minutiae of the soldiers lives, the seemingly minor details of everyday existence in the lead up to the alien invasion. The politics within the platoon are also initially exposed in a more nuanced fashion than one might expect from the director of Darkness Falls and the writer of, well, nothing we've really heard of before (Christopher Bertolini). The cinematography by Lukas Ettlin is for the most part visually dynamic, if not what you might call beautiful.
However, many of the film's virtues are shot to smithereens over the latter 90 minutes. The entire premise of the film seems to fall down almost immediately if you pause for 30 seconds to think about it. The magnitude of the alien invasion seems so daunting and insurmountable, making it completely pointless to follow the story further than the first 15 minutes: it definitely appears to be one of those situations where the battle is lost before it's begun.

Apart from that, an excessive amount of swearing, give 'em hell speeches, and severely underwritten characters (Eckhart and his giant chin dimple are sorely wasted here) make it difficult for us to care and furthermore sustain interest in a story that is a little more than a military puff piece. The problem is that the film doesn't know what it wants to be and thus descends into chaos, shaky cam, and oddly-paced dialogue. The concept in the hands of another director and creative team could have potentially produced a very different end result, perhaps more in the vein of Children of Men. 

We feel pretty confident in giving this a straight up assessment, given the evidence presented above. Battle: Los Angeles is superior to the director's previous film Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but far far down the totem pole from actioners such as Kick-Ass or emotionally superior alien flicks such as Monsters. 


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