Title: Battle: Los Angeles
Directed By: Jonathan Liebesman
Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Ramon Rodriguez, Cory Hardrict, Gino Anthony Pesi, Ne-Yo, James Hiroyuki Liao, Noel Fisher, Bridget Moynahan, Ade M’Cormack, Bryce Cass, Michael Pena, Michelle Rodriguez, Neil Brown Jr., Joey King
We were so close. Thirty minutes into Battle: Los Angeles, you’re sure director Jonathan Liebesman has done it. We meet our main players, they’re sent into battle, lives are lost and you’re genuinely sick to your stomach with grief. If aliens ever did come to earth looking to take over, this is what the war would feel like. Sadly, that success is then tarnished by more of the same, unrealistic heroic garbage.
It’s August 12th, 2011 and the world is at war. What NASA suspects to be incoming meteors, turns out to be an invading alien race – a hostel one. The enemy ships assume positions near major cities across the globe and send their units in to take out everyone in sight. Our only hope for survival lies in the armed forces.
The film focuses on a particular platoon fighting the invaders in Los Angeles. Fresh out of training, 2nd Lt. William Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez) is appointed to lead a team of men at a moment’s notice. He’s joined by SSgt. Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart), a seasoned marine struggling to get past a mission gone wrong. The unit is assigned to rescue a group of civilians holed up in a police station in the middle of the mayhem. They’ve got three hours to complete the rescue and make it back to safety before an airstrike demolishes the area.
Right off the bat, you’re reeled in by the action. The first few minutes of the film give a comprehensive and compelling overview of the overwhelmingly hostile situation. From there, we cut to 24 hours before the attack. The platoon soldiers are going about their business; Cpl. Kevin Harris (Ne-Yo) is picking out flowers with his wife for their wedding, Cpl. Jason Lockett (Cory Hardrict) is visiting his brother’s grave and the whole gang enjoys some beer. It’s quite obvious what the filmmakers are hoping to achieve here, but unfortunately, barely 20 minutes of get-to-know-you time isn’t enough for such a hefty supporting cast.
Regardless, the film keeps a nice pace as the action begins. The first street battle is quite compelling, particularly when Pfc. Shaun Lenihan (Noel Fisher), the youngest of the bunch, has a one-on-one with an invader. In fact, all of the fight scenes really maintain a great deal of energy and suspense, the problem is, there are just too many of them. Battle: Los Angeles is a war movie and nothing more. The platoon literally goes from one battle to the next from beginning to end. Quiet moments are nearly nonexistent.
Actually, it’s too bad the film isn’t void of them completely because most fall on Eckhart’s shoulders and he just can’t handle it. Eckhart takes the concept of playing a hardened marine way too far. He never smiles, which is noted at one point, and speaks with a forced husky voice whether he’s shouting out orders or talking to a child. It’s a one-note performance all the way through. Then again, he does have a few unintentionally comedic moments, so that shows some range, right? The uplifting pep talk is inevitable in a movie like this. Just when it feels like all hope is lost, the leading man steps up and gives some awe-inspiring speech à la Independence Day. Well, Bill Pullman did it better, way better.
All of the blame for this blunder can’t rest on Eckhart’s shoulders. Writer Christopher Bertoloini certainly knows how to throw his characters into a fight, but when it comes to making any sort of emotional connection he fails miserably thanks to laughable dialogue. It’s quite clear from the start that Liebesman is looking to show what would happen if aliens really did invade by putting us on the front line with the men and women who’d really have to protect us and in that sense, Battle: Los Angeles is a major success. It’s just too bad Liebesman didn’t communicate that with his writer. Cheesy heroic babble does not fit in a movie like this.
It’s really too bad the dialogue turns out to be such a killer because Liebesman delivers some fantastic work. Much of the film is shot shaky cam style and it’s extremely appropriate. You really feel as though you’re alongside these marines. Even better, the shots are incredibly picturesque. The composition is gorgeous, the camera movements beautifully natural and the entire film, packed with images worthy of being displayed as art. The tone is set through the cinematography right from the start and it’s maintained marvelously from beginning to end.
What hinders Liebesman’s effort a bit is the lack of downtime. No, there’d be no time to hang out should ETs pay us a violent visit, but without that breather in a movie, you never get to know the characters. All of the actors portraying secondary soldiers are quite good; it’s a shame we spend so much time with Eckhart and explosions and not with all of them. Even just 15 extra minutes devoted to “hanging out with the guys” could have made all the difference.
Better yet, why not take out Bridget Moynahan’s civilian character all together and give them her screen time? Like Eckhart, she suffers from horrendously laughable dialogue. She does absolutely nothing to enhance the story and neither do any of the civilians for that matter. The only good that comes out of their inclusion is the film’s sole true tearjerker involving Michael Pena and Bryce Cass.
Battle: Los Angeles is the quintessential example of a failure via poor writing. Minus Eckhart, everything else is spot on from the visuals to the performances to the music and even to the design of the aliens. Had all of this film’s 116 minutes been as good as the first 30, we’d have that realistic alien invasion movie Liebesman strove to deliver. Instead, we just get a mere taste of what it could have been after which it’s merely a fight scene on repeat drowning in overly glorified battle talk.
By Perri Nemiroff