Monday, August 8, 2011

Film Review

Battle: Los Angeles (2011): it's not a horror movie, but it was so much fun, I just had to review it.  And please, for the love of all that is holy, don't confuse this film with the SyFy Channel's cheap and truly horrible knock-off entitled Battle for Los Angeles.  I accidentally caught a few minutes of it a few weeks ago.  I still shudder and curl into the fetal position at the memory.

Haunted by the loss of soldiers under his command while serving in Afghanistan, Marine staff sergeant Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) is set to retire.  Shortly after the order is signed, clusters of meteors begin showering the earth.  No one thinks much of it until the military is put on high alert.  Suddenly, Nantz is back in, the replacement sergeant in rookie 2nd Lieutenant William Martinez's (Ramon Rodriguez) unit.  While the Marines prepare to move to a forward operating base (FOB), they learn the meteors are transports and that an invasion force is emerging from the ocean onto beaches all over the world.  It's not until they reach the FOB that the troops are told the enemy is extraterrestrial.  Nantz's unit is ordered to evacuate a group of civilians holed up at an L.A. police station before a squadron of heavy bombers flatten the area. 

The focus of Battle: L.A. is exclusively on Nantz and his men.  We get an idea of the global picture via TV and radio broadcasts.  This is quite effective and makes the film much more personal...and human.  First and foremost, this is a war movie, and is filled with all of the usual war movie cliches, including the characters.  You won't care.  The filmmakers weren't trying to make Platoon or Saving Private Ryan here.  They set out to make an action flick and they don't screw around with subtleties.  There isn't even a love scene.  Heck, there isn't even a hint of sexual tension between any of the characters.  As it should be. 

The special effects deserve a bit of discussion as they simply rock.  I am not a fan of CGI because I've yet to see a film where the inserted computer effects aren't obvious, if not laughable.  No so, here.  The alien ships and the aliens themselves serve only to complement the real sets and explosions, and the melding is virtually seamless.  The aerial shots of a devastated city are also impressive.  I heard Roger Ebert called the movie "ugly."  I like Mr. Ebert, always have, but his comment makes no sense.  When is war not supposed to be ugly?  Battle: L.A. is gritty and real and dirty and sweaty...kind of like real life.  Oddly, critics have called Saving Private Ryan a beautiful film, a film where we're treated to scenes of soldiers getting limbs blown off and their guts ripped out.  War is awful.  Any filmmaker who tries to make it appear otherwise is a moron.  (Apologies to Mr. Spielberg.)  To be fair, Battle: L.A. is rated PG-13, therefore the gore factor is not what it could have been.

What kept running through my mind while watching this movie was how much it reminded me of Blackhawk Down.  The same intensity and the same kind of suspense that has you leaning forward and mumbling, "come on, come can make it!"  It also has you cheering when they kick some alien ass.

The Breakdown

Acting:  Eckhart is perfect as the emotionally wounded sergeant.  The supporting players do well enough in their own right. 
Story:  Definitely not a new idea, but a unique approach. 
Direction:  You won't get confused and you won't get bored.  I guarantee it. 
Production Values:  With an $80M budget, quality is a given. 
Gore/FX:  There's the usual gunshot blood, but nothing heavy.  The FX, as I've said, are astounding.
Scares:  Not really that kind of movie.
The Ending:  Close to perfect, in my opinion. 
The Verdict:  Should you see Battle: Los Angeles?  If you like action or war films, you must.  If you like science-fiction, you should.  If you like horror...well, your call.  I like horror and I loved it.  It's way better than Cowboys & Aliens.  Sad, but oh, so true.

My Rating:  4 out of 5 stars.

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