Aaron Eckhart in Battle: Los Angeles (Columbia Pictures)
As is sometimes the case I will lead with the few negatives I have to say about a film to accentuate the positives afterward. This is what I will do for Battle: Los Angeles because I did walk away very pleased and rather impressed in the end, my tweet reaction being: “An enjoyable theatrical double feature today. Say what? Battle: LA revives invasion films with moments of symphonic brilliance.”
I have found that tweeting a knee-jerk reaction to a film can be quite helpful to the review process it allows you to encapsulate your overall view of the film and then explore why you feel as such later on. It also illuminates that this film ends rather strongly after a rather plain start.
First, this one of the rare films wherein a frame doesn’t really serve the story well. The film starts with footage which is in medias res of the alien invasion and then backtracks to a day before. This does a disservice to the film by dulling some good foreshadowing that is done prior to the attack. The foreshadowing is left without impact due to the fact that the table has been set likely for the impatient audience member.
The other thing that needs saying is that there are a fair amount of cliché used to construct it. There is the character who is handing in his resignation and we view his “I’m getting too old for this crap” scene, there are young soldiers, a teased virgin, one who lost his brother, the tough broad aptly played by Michelle Rodriguez as always. As with anything, however, it all boils down to execution. Cliché without execution in insufferable, cliché that gets stripped down, that eventually leads to individualized characters that you can identify with in a vehicle that works is a whole other story.
What I’m talking about in my tweet is the synergy that exists when the battle really gets underway, a synergy of the cinematic elements such as the edit, the cinematography and score to make the stakes of the tale hit home. One of the traps of the invasion and/or apocalyptic film is that the stakes couldn’t be higher but at times we could care less. This story is one of a more hand-to-hand combat, a more guerrilla style, which lends an immediacy to the tale. Also lending to the atmosphere is that, as much as it can be, this film is a microcosmic tale. You get a sense of the larger destruction around the world and how many major metropolitan areas are in the same boat but the film only shows you glimpses of it. You are watching this small battlefield and invested in these characters and it does affect you viscerally first and foremost.
It being a war movie in essence makes it one of the few cases when wildly flailing handheld camerawork is preferable but in trying to lend this film a modicum of reality it never forgets its intended audience and makes everything visually intelligible, which is no small feat or backhanded compliment, it truly is something to communicate chaos with clarity.
What is also good to see is that the battle is ultimately decided by perseverance and human intuition and there’s no fortuitous break that salvages mankind as there in the granddaddy of invasion stories War of the Worlds. The film also ends on a realistic and level plane. There is the exaltation of victory but no happily ever after moment. Merely we see the characters who survive moving on and we have the knowledge that other cities now have a blueprint to get through this but we don’t see that.
Michelle Rodriguez in another great action performance already got her due in this review, and she seems to get more great turns in the genre than most these days, however, what really carries this film is Aaron Eckhart. Eckhart who if he was an athlete would likely be referred to as sneaky good. He’s the kind who tends to get overlooked but then you see him in something you weren’t expecting him to do and are blown away all over again. This is different than him in The Dark Knight, Thank You for Smoking or Erin Brockovich. This film also has something a little different than Stunt Casting, for lack of anything better to call it let’s refer to it as Diamond Casting, which means when you spot someone you recognize some one from a long ago film (there’s that glimmer) but you can’t put your finger on a name. Here it happened in a few cases and that would be with Noel Fisher, Will Rothaar, Taylor Handley and Lucas Till. There are also two fantastic performances by young supporting actors namely Bryce Cass and Joey King.
At times it can seem like any alien invasion film coming out can seem most tired but every once and a while one of these films will surprise you. In my estimation Battle: Los Angeles is such a film. It is most definitely worthy of your viewership.