Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Battle: Los Angeles - (2011) - Cinema Review (5/10)

Unoriginal and Repetitive
The plot is pretty straight forward. Mix a primary dose of modern American war movie set in Iraq or Afghanistan, such as The Hurt Locker, then mix in a little Independence Day, Aliens and the original 'V', with a heavy dash of District 9, and voila, Battle: Los Angeles.

The star, Aaron Eckhart (The Core, The Dark Knight, Love Happens), plays a Staff Sergeant who is on the verge of retiring after the usual 'traumatic experience from his last battle'. The rest of the cast are a practically non-existent mix of one-dimensional stereotypes. We have the soldier about to get married, the soldier who's wife is pregnant, the soldier who is green and inexperienced, the soldier who's brother was killed in battle with the man now commanding him, the inexperienced Lieutenant who must rise to the call before a tragic end... All stereotypes. The problem is, they're stereotypes that go no further. We get to know and care for none of them, apart for the possible exception of the Sergeant. They are canon fodder in the most literal sense. So much so, that setting up their characters was itself pointless time-wasting.

Aaron Eckhart waiting for another shoot-out
Then there's the science fiction element of the film. This is merely an excuse for the 'story' and action. There is nothing original or even vaguely different about the aliens or their motivations. In fact, the invaders could be replaced with any human enemy and the story would be the same. I love science fiction, but this film only scrapes into the genre by having alien antagonists.

In fact, Battle: Los Angeles goes out of its way to avoid showing you the aliens in any real detail. It's as though they're afraid of showing them. The concept design for the creatures, their equipment and their vehicles appears to lack any theme or consistent aesthetic (not that we get to see much of them anyway). It's all very standard and unoriginal.

The alien invaders
The cast apparently went to 'boot camp' to go through professional training in readiness, but it seems to have made little difference in how the film was made. All too often they're busy shouting in situations where common sense would tell you to keep quiet, or standing around exposed when they should be staying low behind cover, or simply not moving when their position has clearly been spotted by an enemy.

Flying into battle
As for the way it was filmed, again, Battle: Los Angeles is an experiment in lack of originality. We are treated to yet another movie in which the camera sways and wobbles and zooms and swish-pans every which way it can. It's not as horribly intrusive as it could have been, but it's more than sufficient to be annoying, distracting and pointless. The style is supposed to provide that 'documentary feel'. When did you last watch a documentary in the depths of a war-zone, in which the camera constantly moves and cuts so you can't really get a good view of anything? The technique is supposed to increase the sense of 'realism' for the viewer, but is simply repetitive and distracting.

Once the action kicks in, the film is very much a couple of hours filled with the same thing again and again, with minor variations. Aliens approach, marines shoot back. The odds appear overwhelming, a few marines get killed, then they heroically triumph until the next engagement. Each of these scenes progress almost geometrically in scale until the climax.

Michelle Rodriguez clearly rebelling against stereotype
That's Battle: Los Angeles in a nut shell. There really isn't a lot else to it. It's well enough acted, though Eckhart comes over as his usual emotionless self, and the rest of the cast have little else to do than shout a lot. It's all entertaining fun, and it will just about keep you interested enough to watch, but within the first half hour of leaving the cinema, after the effects of the adrenaline pumping action have worn off, you suddenly realise something. Battle: Los Angeles is a well made film that says and does absolutely nothing. I've seen many films that are worse, but usually they've at least tried to be more than they were, even if they failed badly. Battle: Los Angeles tries nothing and ultimately is nothing. It just is. A noisy war movie with a collection of battle scenes, filmed in a modern style with a big budget.


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