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Review: Battle: L.A.

Battle: L.A.

When I first saw the trailer for Battle: Los Angeles, I couldn’t help think that this movie didn’t look too interesting save for the concept. Then a friend of mine had said that he read it was in some ways similar to “Black Hawk Down”. I was shocked to hear this because I love “Black Hawk Down” and do not compare many other films, let alone movies, to it. My friend then informed me it was based on the Marines. Well I was sold, at least enough to see the movie for myself. After seeing the movie I can say the similarities are mild. But was it worth my time and money?

Most movies attract me by their story first. The story of aliens attacking the planet earth is not an entirely new one. I’ve seen it a hundred times done in four or five ways. Most movies with aliens will detail the human struggle as a species, the social struggle of the local group (Americans, Japanese, New Yorkers, etc), or the political observations of such events. This is one way in which Battle: L.A. changes is by dealing directly with the small squad of Marines which find themselves clearing out portions of Santa Monica. A story told in this regard does lose some of the grandeur that larger alien attack films have.

One such element is back story. Where most stories will tell the audience the entirely of the 5 W’s (Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How… still never got the silent H addition…), this movie doesn’t do this. They show you only what the characters in the movie might know. There is a cheat here or there, but the general ideas are informed to the observer of the movie. While I will not spoil anything for this review, I can say if you wanted to have  complete answers to who the aliens are, what they are, where they come from, when they found us, you won’t get that. You barely get a why or even a how. Some of this is granted, but not much. The story is not reliant on that however. The story is that of the Marines, and not necessarily the individual Marines. The main character is Aaron Eckhart (SSgt Nantz), and while he has most of the face time, never did you feel like he was this massive force of a character. The real character comes through as the cohesive unit of the Marines and the way in which they are conveyed. First ones in, Last ones out is a solid representation of these soldiers. The stories of the individuals only serve to observe how each one inter-relates to one another and how it may affect the others. They include a measure of doubt from the troops to Eckharts character which gets a resolution at some point in a rather touching way, but none of it is as “Hollywood” as previous attempts have been. The story is subtle outside of the massive alien force which is attacking the planet.

The story of Battle: Los Angeles is accentuated by using video verite. For the few people who don’t know, video verite (or cinema verite) is a style which was used in the new Battlestar Galactica as well as the movie Cloverfield. It is where a hand cam feel is used to place the viewer into a different state of mind when observing, though completely different from LSD. This style works very well in the movie, but not without its faults. Early on, while we are getting to know the majority of the cast, the video verite style is at odds with the observer. A shaky camera with a closeup is not the best way to introduce me to the people I need to care about. Additionally, there are several times when you feel claustrophobic where casual conversation is taking place. Luckily, however, these are few and generally located in the front half of the movie. A circumstance where it worked well casually was a situation where two of the men are discussing their new SSgt, SSgt Nantz. The camera takes a distant observation point with the two focal points in the background. While these two are talking, the scene is going on around them, with various actors passing through the scene. This adds to the emotion of the scene as the two Marines are discussing their uncertainty of Nantz because of his history. Here, you got the proper sense that they were concerned but not outwardly vocal to the rest of the Marines about it. It also conveyed well that many people had their own concerns for Nantz, which is an important part of the group cohesion for the majority of the movie.

The action sequences for Battle: L.A. are well done. They are not, by any means, the traditional over the top action scenes we have come to expect from Hollywood blockbusters. Instead, aside from the alien force, they are quite believable. There are three main action sequences which takes place in the movie, and each one offers a difference emotive quality. The movies takes the observer on an emotional journey with each one. The first one has the observer feeling helpless as they are introduced to their threats. The second one has the observer anxious and claustrophobic. The third and final battle definitely has the audience feeling hopeful, but not to the point of cocky. It is uncertain who will live and die, and people certainly die.The emotive connection is most definitely made possible by the use of the verite style. An uncertain camera means the framing isn’t as predictable as it usually is and this gives you the sense you are in the battle. The best thing about these sequences however is that they do not suffer from the usual “what is going on” that most movies suffer from, and they aren’t usually using the verite style! With this movie, they have differentiated most of the actors well enough that you generally know who is in trouble, who is under fire, and who’s dog tags are to be found in their boots.

Along with the camera work, the audio is used fairly competently. When the presence of the aliens is first established, they give the observer an understanding that a particular sound is accompanied by some shit hitting the fan. It is a rather odd bass sound which is not natural to the common observer. It’s similar to that of a pod race sound in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. While I’m not a fan of the Star Wars movies, this sound works well as an unnatural alien sound. During moments of intense gun fire, the sound cuts through the loud “clicks” and “clacks” of gun fire so that you can distinguish who is gaining momentum. The mix of high intensity emotion from the story, the unsteady hand of the verite style, and the audio which captured the essence of the artillery, gunfire, and alien presence kept the movie captivating enough.

Ultimately, the question on whether or not you want to see this movie lies with you. If you want a high intensity, action at every corner, full blown action film, do not see this movie. This movie doesn’t offer the traditional sense of the Hollywood Blockbuster you might expect from a movie that is about aliens invading the planet. If you’re much more interested in a story that is much more the duties and responsibilities of a Marine and soldiers in general over that of their enemy being aliens, then sit down and enjoy yourself. It is in this way where the movie closely fits with “Black Hawk Down”. In the same way that movie conveyed the Rangers and Special Forces in a serious conflict that had you in near tears, I found several moments in this movie to feel emotional. Not in the fact that they were written particularly well, but in the fact that the words spoken could have been true in Los Angeles with an alien attack, or spoken in Afghanistan, Iraq, Korea, or any other location where war has made soldiers live regrettably necessary lives. At the end of the day I did not regret my decision to see this movie. And while I personally don’t see Eckhart as a Marine, he did well enough a job to convey the important parts that this movie feels like a well done experiment that makes me want to see similar movies in the future. I do suggest this movie is seen, and if you’re still uncertain, please spend the time to see it when it comes to video so that you can see a small glimpse into the difficult and simply complex lives of soldiers in our Armed Forces… without all of the fluff. Consider Battle Los Angeles a movie about marines in a conflict. In this particular case, the conflict is one to save the planet Earth, starting with L.A..

-The Adam



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