Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Review: Battle: Los Angeles (Jonathan Liebesman, 2011)

Overlong, horribly scripted, visually disorienting and burdened with endless clichés from both alien invasion films such as Independence Day and District 9 and war films such as Black Hawk Down, the Jonathan Liebesman directed, Battle: Los Angeles, is an arduous mess of a film.

The film follows a group of US marines in Los Angeles on the morning of a global extraterrestrial assault. Alien invaders have landed off shore in 20 major cities around the world in an attempt to take over and harvest humanity’s most precious resource, water. The film remains exclusively in Los Angeles, centering on Staff Sergeant Nantz (Aaron Eckhart), a soon-to-be-retired solider, who is called on one last time to accompany a unit in their desperate defense of the city. 

We are thrown immediately into the conflict, a serious misstep, considering the length of the film and the frequency of the intense battle sequences to come. But soon enough, we flash back to a period before the invasion, and are introduced (albeit briefly and poorly) to the key characters. We do not remember any of their names (I had to look up Eckhart’s character), nor do we care. They exist merely as the same generic stereotypes we have seen countless times before; Nantz, the skilled veteran drawn into one last battle after requesting retirement, the bitter Marine who’s brother was killed under Nantz’s previous command, the scared rookie, the token African American and Latino soldiers, the strong-willed female solider (played by Michelle Rodriguez) who surprises her male counterparts on several occasions and the incompetent Lieutenant who ultimately surrenders leadership to his more heroic and inspirational Staff Sergeant.

The screenplay, which is riddled with clichés and not to mention, awful dialogue, is really dumb. The scope of the film, following its opening, which sets Los Angeles as one of the sites of the massive alien invasion, is diminished when Eckhart and his crew are assigned a mission to rescue some civilians (including Michael Pena and Bridget Moynahan) that have been left behind during the evacuation at a now abandoned LAPD station. This is the story that the film primarily adopts. The soldiers accompany the civilians, which also include a couple of children, to a Forward Operating Base, taking down any enemies they encounter and commandeering a bus en-route to assist them in making it beyond the blast zone of an air strike that had been scheduled for ‘exactly’ three hours following the start of the mission.

While some of the visuals are truly spectacular, especially in the opening moments of the invasion, this is a pretty ugly film. While I am usually an admirer of the hand-held technique and the on-the-ground aesthetic of war films, it is horrendously utilised here. While the goal is obviously to place audiences within the skirmishes, and provide first-hand footage of the struggle, just as Ridley Scott intended to do in Black Hawk Down, it is often almost impossible to decipher what is going on. Dozens of filmmakers have attempted to perfect the technique of shooting intense action sequences with hand-held, effectively differentiating between their characters and keeping the film engaging and exciting. Jonathan Liebesman, who has been given millions of dollars to throw around, clearly has not taken these methods on board.

There is very little originality to anything we see in this film, but to think that Liebesman has tried something new with his camerawork is a very evident failure. The camera is thrown around haphazardly, and mixed with the rapid editing, creates a disorienting effect more than anything. We cannot distinguish between the characters, the enemy is frequently captured from a distance, advancing in a line as soulless Halo-like killing machines, and explosions, flying debris and sometimes sun flares, frequently cloud our visibility. The film is also incredibly noisy. In addition to the distracting patriotic score, there is an endless drone of muddled sound effects; a confusing mix of constant machine gun fire, the buzz of overhead drones, overblown explosions and marines yelling inaudible (and silly) dialogue at one another. 

Throw in some corny sentimentality and a misguided political sensibility and you have the recipe for a pretty awful film. As we watch the Marines mercilessly gun down their enemies for close to two hours, there are many lacklustre attempts to thrill the audience with blatant acts of heroism and patriotism. There are countless ridiculous moments amidst the chaos of battle that find the characters emotionally interacting in an attempt to draw sentiment from the audience. There is even a ludicrous moment when the squad encounters a dog emerging from the smoke of a low visibility region. Despite hearing noises beyond the smoke that may signify a very imminent threat, all of the soldiers drop their guard and laugh as one of the soldiers even crouches down to pat the dog and read out it's name. It comes as no shock that at this moment they are showered with bullets. Battle: Los Angeles has no semblance of fun at all, so you are far better off spending your time with something like Independence Day (hey, they end similarly) if you are after an alien invasion film, or The Hurt Locker, if you are after a gritty war drama.

My Rating: 1 1/2 Stars (D-)


  1. agree. Battle LA was one of the most disappointing in-theater-experiences of my life. Such an imbecile piece of schlock.

  2. Haha

    Did this just come in theaters?

    I didn't care for it, either.

  3. This is one I couldn't finish watching. Just a complete waste of time.

  4. Totally. I missed it at the cinema. Checked it out on DVD! It's just awful. Way too long, and the camerawork and editing is frequently disorienting.

  5. Just totally cheesy and just bad even though the action sort of held me over. But barely. Good Review Andy!

  6. I gave the action some attention. It had it's moments, but it was mostly as I described. The lack of originality and the blatant cliches are unforgivable though. Thanks for reading Dan!