Movie Number– 78
Title– Battle: Los Angeles (2011)
Running Time– 116 minutes (“PG-13”)
Director– Jonathan Liebesman
Writer– Christopher Bertolini
Starring– Aaron Eckhart, Ramon Rodriguez, Will Rothhaar, and Michelle Rodriguez
Battle: Los Angeles received a lot of negative publicity after it was released back in March. This may have had something to do with the large amount of hype the film managed before its theatrical debut. The trailer looked excellent, and had folks interested right from the get-go. Due to a hectic schedule I was never able to make it to the theatre to see this alien invasion film on the big screen. A movie as epic in size as Battle: LA begs to be seen in a loud, crowded theatre, but those of us who missed it there finally have another opportunity to catch one of the year’s most underrated films thanks to this week’s DVD and BD release.
Aaron Eckhart (Thank You for Smoking, The Dark Knight) plays Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz, whom we find out has lost his last unit in Afghanistan, and is ready to call it a career with his silver star. On one of his last days of duty, while on a training mission, the Marines are called into action. Apparently, unknown objects have been falling into the planet’s oceans, and because they are slowing down before impact, the initial “meteorite” theory is thrown out the window. Nantz is forced to do one last tour of duty, but is put under rookie Lieutenant William Martinez’s control (Ramon Rodriguez – Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3). Martinez’s group of men knows who Nantz is, and are skeptical about having him on their team since he got his last fleet killed in combat. One of the members of this newly formed group is Cpl. Jason Lockett (Cory Hardrict – Gran Torino, He’s Just Not That Into You), the brother of one of Nantz’s fallen Marines.
Battle: LA is about these character’s relationships to one another in this time of extreme hardship, and that’s what brings some of the criticism. The aliens are second to the humans. This is a strength for anyone who wants something different than the typical alien invasion flick. What aren’t lost, though, are the big, loud action sequences. The mixing of these two elements make Battle: LA a great movie-going experience.
The story is arguably the most important aspect of Battle: LA, and though it isn’t incredibly deep, there are small moments in the film’s first act that help the second and third act flow effortlessly. For example, Lt. William Martinez kisses his wife goodbye as he leaves the house, then gets down on his knee and kisses her pregnant belly. This is the most we ever learn of his backstory, but it is enough to make Martinez one of the strongest characters in the film. This small flash gives the audience a personal connection with the character, and these moments are littered throughout Battle: LA. All of these small moments – which seem shallow, and unassuming – act as building blocks, which lead us to an excellent climax that pulls at the heartstrings.
Aaron Eckhart does a wonderful job bringing depth to a seemingly one-dimensional character. Though Nantz constantly puts up a tough front, he is a broken, desolate man on the inside. Eckhart finds this dynamic, making his character a powerful dramatic device that drives the action forward. Michael Peña, playing a civilian that Nantz and his crew attempt to rescue, and Bryce Cass, his son, are two of the best supporting characters in the film. This is another instance where not much is known of their histories, but writer Christopher Bertolini gives them dialogue – and moments – that make us care about their story. Since the characters and their relationships are more important than the aliens in Battle: LA, it’s great to find believable people that we want to get to know.
Not to be outdone by the acting, the special effects look excellent. The sets, designed to mimic the ash that blanketed New York City during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, add to the realism and believability of the film. The aliens are detailed and creepy when we get to see them up-close, which, admittedly, isn’t often. All the scenes seem alive, making the demolition of the city all the more devastating to watch. For a director who has never tackled a movie of this size, Liebesman shows an excellent talent for destruction, and largeness.
There is definitely something to be said about the camera work. Liebesman has decided to use a “rocky cam” effect. It isn’t quite the shaky cam that we see in every found footage film (or Prowl), but rather a technique that looks like the camera was put on a boat, and it continuously rocks back and forth. This is extremely bothersome at the beginning of the film, and I can’t see why it is used in these early stages. However, this effect is either used less in the second two-thirds of the film, or the viewer gets used to it, because after the aliens started invading, I didn’t have a problem with the camera work at all. In fact, the opposite is true: I loved some of the wonderful cinematographic moments that Liebesman found. If you can make it through the first third of the film with this obnoxious and overused technique, the camera tricks are much more meaningful later on.
There seems to be two different climaxes in the film. The first one comes in the form of the relationships between the Marines, and the second comes in an epic battle between humans and aliens. The first one hit me like a bag of bricks, while the second climax did nothing for me. The opposite could be said for someone else, I’m sure. The point is this: do not enter Battle: LA expecting a typical alien invasion movie with nameless characters and tons of explosions. Battle: LA delivers a good amount of action, but there are slower sequences that tell the story of these Marines, and how they handle this fantastical situation. Battle: Los Angeles is a sci-fi flick with a heart, and is highly recommended.