Lost in the shuffle of Heath Ledger’s brilliant performance in The Dark Knight was Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey Dent, whose underrated performance many felt kept the film together. Despite brilliant performances in Thank You For Smoking and Rabbit Hole not being recognized by the Academy, Eckhart has managed to carve out a career as a respected actor who just quite hasn’t become a big star yet. And that’s not a bad thing because Eckhart has a great touch for picking projects since Thank You For Smoking put him on Hollywood’s radar. He doesn’t need something of a certain profile to maintain either his acting credentials or any perceived drawing power. Which makes Battle: Los Angeles an interesting pick considering his recent history.
Eckhart is Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz, a Marine on his way out of the USMC when aliens invade. Put into a new platoon after an incident in Iraq, it’s up to Nantz and his makeshift team of soldiers to try and make one last stand in Los Angeles in a battle no one was prepared for or expected. Battling aliens in the streets of Los Angeles, Nantz and his platoon go from a simple rescue mission to the biggest fight humanity ever has had.
He’s also too good of an actor to be in a film like this. He’s a remarkably talented actor and even the ridiculous dialogue he gets saddled with has a power and meaning because of the way he says it. Nantz is the sort of non-commissioned officer that’s a standard in the genre but Eckhart gives an inspired performance in a film that really doesn’t warrant it. During scenes that could almost be comical Eckhart gives them a purpose and dramatic heft. It keeps the film from becoming a bit of a farce, which is hard to think considering the lengths it’s done in such a different way than it could’ve been.
Filmed in a documentary style, meshing the “boots on the ground” approach to a science fiction shell, Battle: Los Angeles has all the clichés and stock characters of any war film. Even Eckhart is the grizzled veteran NCO with the unprepared officer so there’s nothing new or ground-breaking to be found. There wouldn’t be any difference in the film in terms of story, tone or characters if it had been Chinese invading instead of CGI aliens. What it does is just add the documentary style film-making aspect to the genre and nothing more. But he makes a huge gamble by introducing the “shaky-cam” to give the proceedings more of urgency.
The problem is that he overdoes it. The camera shakes so much that it becomes hard to keep track of what’s going on throughout the film. It becomes a complicated mess at times because Jonathan Liebesman seems to lose track of what’s happening. It becomes hard to follow and the sense of “being there” gives way at times to a sense of being confused. One understands where Liebesman is going with the film, though. He’s trying to make a war film within the confines of science fiction because it’s the logical progression of an armed alien invasion in this world.
This is his Terminator: Salvation, which viewed a future battle between man and machine as a war film instead of science fiction because of how advanced modern civilization has become. Liebesman is taking a page out of the McG playbook in taking the war film perspective to the alien invasion film. With humanity fighting back it wouldn’t be a bunch of civilians in some far-fetched scenario saving the day. It’d be the trained men and women of the armed forces leading the way. Liebesman shows a tremendous touch with this aspect by showing these soldiers as men and women of valor; the sheer respect for the troops is evident throughout. It’s odd to see a modern film treat the modern Marine as someone who isn’t a villain or has some comical version of a crippling mental disorder. These are tough guys and warriors doing their jobs and showing tremendous courage doing so.
Battle: Los Angeles could’ve been a bit more than it turned out to be. There’s nothing that screams that this film could’ve been a masterpiece, obviously, but there’s enough there to turn it into something more watchable than this film.
Director: Jonathan Liebesman Notable Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Michael Pena, Bridget Moynahan, Ne-Yo Writer(s): Christopher Bertolini