Battle LA

When “The Hurt Locker” won the Oscar for Best Picture of the Year at the 2010 Academy Awards it fell into that rare category of a seldom seen and unsuccessful movie that went on to win an Oscar.  What many liked about that movie was the realistic, documentary style of filmmaking used to follow around the activities of one bomb squad.  We now are getting “Battle: Los Angeles” which may not go on to garner any Oscar nominations, but still be enjoyed by the masses.  This movie is “The Hurt Locker” with aliens.

The movie, literally, starts off with a bang as one Marine platoon enters a war torn Los Angeles to rescue some civilians.  Los Angeles, and many cities across the globe, is being invaded by an extra-terrestrial race.  These alien beings are overrunning the city and this army platoon are going to have to fight their way out if any of them are going to survive.

What separates this movie from movies like “Independence Day” is that this story feels like it is more set in reality than science fiction.  The aliens are not firing lasers at the soldiers and they don’t have some sort of force field protecting them either.  The battle scenes are real gritty and there are probably real soldiers out there, ones that have seen combat, who may have a flashback or two while watching them.  The battle scenes are realistic on both sides too.  When one of the alien soldiers is injured in battle their comrades will pull that soldier to safety just as the humans do.  It’s little details like this that separates “Battle: Los Angeles” from all other “aliens invade Earth” type of movies.

Director Jonathan Liebesman also wants to make sure the audience gets to know his characters.  There are many utilities and methods a director has at their disposal to tell a story.  One device Liebesman uses is that when a new character is introduced, usually one of the soldiers, a graphic appears on screen to let you know who they are and their rank in the unit, the movie then let’s the audience to get to know that character before introducing another.  If we don’t get to know these people and they’re stories we are not going to care about them when they enter combat and the movie will not work.

The makers of the movie put together a great and talented cast starting with Aaron Eckhart.  Eckhart has always looked for interesting characters to play and his character, SSgt. Michael Nantz is no different.  Nantz, we learn, had a mission go back once and now he must take commands from a much younger and inexperienced soldier who is way over his head in the form of young 2nd Lt. William Martinez (Ramon Rodriquez).  Michael Peña also has a role in this movie playing one of the civilians, Joe who is trying to keep himself and his young son alive through this ordeal.  Michelle Rodriquez is cast as TSgt. Elena Santos.  Michelle has almost become Hollywood’s go-to-girl to play a tough as nails, empowered woman role and she does not disappoint again.

The movie will not appeal to everyone.  This is more of a war movie than a science fiction film and those expecting to see the latter or those who are not a fan of the former, may not care for what they see.  The handheld shots in the movie often make you feel that you are there in the battle with the soldiers, but they take these types of shots too far.  They may work in the heat of battle, but there is no need to have a shaky handheld shot in an office where two people are having a calm conversation.  AT that point it’s more of a distraction.  Te movie’s budget surely could have afforded to use a tri-pod in that scene.  There are a few flaws in the screenplay as well.  Information the audience knows is often repeated and there are ways to avoid doing that.  This is Christopher Bertolini’s first screenplay in over ten years and only his second overall so he can be forgiven for falling into these traps.  Most people probably won’t care.

There is an old saying that there are no new stories to tell, just different ways to tell them.  “Battle: Los Angeles” takes an old story that has been told many times before and presents it in a fresh manner.  It is rated PG-13 for sustained and intense sequences of war violence and destruction and for language.  It is now playing in movie theaters all over South Florida.