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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 18, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 11
Battle: Los Angeles a surprisingly entertaining, if familiar, ride
Arts & Entertainment
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Battle: Los Angeles a surprisingly entertaining, if familiar, ride

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

Battle: Los Angeles Opening March 11
First things first: director Jonathan Liebesman's (Darkness Falls, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning) extra-terrestrial war epic Battle: Los Angeles is nothing more than a stripped-down, interstellar remake of Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down. From the way cinematographer Lukas Ettlin (Middle Men) shoots the action to the how editor Christian Wagner (Fast & Furious) chops things together to the gritty realism of Peter Wenham's (The Bourne Ultimatum) production design, everything here looks, feels and sounds a lot like that 2001 Oscar-winning military opus.

Writer Chris Bertolini (The General's Daughter) obviously studied the film, as well. He keeps things focused entirely upon a single Marine unit lost amidst the chaos of an alien invasion on the streets of Los Angeles. Cut off from their command, working on their own, doing their best to protect a group of civilians, everything that happens to this ragtag bunch is a lot like what Josh Hartnett's character and his team went through in Scott's picture - just substitute faceless alien soldiers for Somali gunmen and you've more or less got the exact same scenario.

Battle: Los Angeles is hugely entertaining all on its own, plagiarism or no. The movie is immersive, transporting the viewer right into the heart of the action from the word go, and the group of soldiers - led by a commanding Aaron Eckhart as Marine Sgt. Michael Nantz - becomes a fully-formed unit I came to care about. Their journey through the increasingly devastated streets is like a trip down some bullet-riddled rabbit hole, and the tension ratchets up and builds to a satisfying climax that had me on the edge of my seat.

I love the way Bertonlini and Liebesman waste no time in getting right to it. Their setting up of Nantz's new crew of soldiers is fluid and quick, but doesn't skimp on making each Marine their own person. No one here is nondescript, all feel real, and when they ultimately enter into the fight, their eventual sacrifices have weight and impact.

Even better, unlike recent alien invasion misfires like Skyline, this one never offers up moments of silly incredulity bordering on the unintentionally hilarious. The filmmakers treat the material seriously, as do the actors themselves (Bridget Moynahan, Michelle Rodriguez, and Michael Peña pop up in key supporting roles), giving the resulting film a gravitas pictures similar to it (i.e. Independence Day) usually lack.

There's not a ton more to add. Based on his previous efforts I'd never in a million years believe Liebesman was capable of bringing something like this off. The director shows a restraint and a character-driven dramatic fortitude none of his previous features came close to hinting at. This is the kind of movie that remembers that all the visual whiz-bang in the world doesn't mean a thing if the story is an uninteresting snore, and as such it's hard not to come out of it feeling like you actually got your money's worth.

Make no mistake, Battle: Los Angeles is nothing more than your typical men-at-war melodrama gussied up with the threat of invaders from another planet. But just because that's so doesn't make it any less enjoyable, and for the two hours I spent in the theater, I was happily content. This movie is fun, nothing more and certainly nothing less, making it a spectacle-laden treat I'd be tempted to see again.

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