Directed by Jonathan Liebesman, Written by Christopher Bertolini, 116 minutes, PG-13.
By our guest blogger, Matthew Schimkowitz
If the recent slew of apocalyptic invasion pictures teaches us one thing, it's that they make better trailers than movies.
The bleakest example of this, "Battle: LA," is also among the most disappointing. This loud, jingoistic picture starts strong but quickly slows as the film grows more epic than personal. The film’s hardened marines, cliché speeches, and crazed camera work would make for a great video game and probably already has. That said, less can be said for its cinematic qualities.
Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart), a decorated but dishonored Staff Sargent who is just one day away from retirement, gets called into duty when a group of robotic, colonizing aliens invade Earth's major cities. However, his team--which includes the brother of one of the fallen soldiers from Nantz’s final, controversial campaign--remains skeptical of their leader's skills. Attempting to hold his squad together, Nantz leads them across the decimated Los Angeles cityscape to the alien control center with hopes of ending the invasion.
"Battle: LA" starts with its best foot forward. Eckhart, the disgraced and tortured Sergeant, takes the reins and leads the film on a character-focused war movie. The doubt of Nantz and his squad makes their fear real, as they wander the city’s abandoned interiors. It’s maddening in the best way possible, if only because it takes its subject seriously.
However, this changes as soon as director Jonathan Liebesman's manic handheld camera work takes over. The tight framing and the camera’s whirlwind movements disorient the viewer and disserve the scope of Liebesman’s vision. As he tries and to get back to the characters in Act III, his cast grows and becomes a vehicle for big guns and bigger explosions.
The more epic Bertolini makes his script, the further we get from the heart of the story. Nantz and his company search out new ways to blow things up, when they should be searching for some humanity. They approach each mission with heart, but end in a cold display of violence. In the end, Liebesman never finds the characters, and "Battle: LA" becomes the mindless shooter it shouldn't be.
The trailer may look like "Black Hawk Down" with aliens, but the result is more like a mini-game in “Call of Duty” that loses its luster after a few minutes of gameplay.