Battle: Los Angeles
What is the point of this movie? It’s publicity team have labelled it the ‘most realistic alien invasion movie ever’ which is a bit like calling it the slimiest bar of soap ever; it may well be true but that’s not why we went to the movies (or picked up the soap). So why should you see Battle Los Angeles? Because of the acting? Because of the screenplay? Because of the photography? Well, let me address these issues in reverse order.
It wasn’t until the dawn of the digital age that cameras started being small and compact enough to do these disorientating movements with and so it’s fair to say that this all started with The Blair Witch Project. I won’t argue about whether the Blair Witch Project is a good film or not but the idea that it was found footage was genuinely frightening and revolutionary. The found footage/shaky cam genre has continued at a relative pace with films like Paranormal Activity, Cloverfield and The Last Exorcism all profiting from it. Battle LA has no excuse for using shaky cam. Paul Greengrass uses shaky cam in his action scenes, particularly in his Bourne films, to give the action sequences a kinetic momentum. It works because they are two men thumping each other or two cars chasing each other or two people running and hiding. Whatever. In those films the components of the sequence are there and the camera work simply serves to strengthen the reality. Saving Private Ryan did the same thing but willingly broke down the fourth wall as a means of giving emotional power to impersonal action. Not so in Battle LA. The film is all over the place. There is little focus and there are very few set pieces that last less than an entire act. Clearly we aren’t supposed to believe it’s found footage (a la District 9) or that they want us to wonder whether it might really have happened like Blair Witch (I might have heard about the destruction of LA), so the aesthetic choice is made simply because the filmmakers assume that if people are practically having to move in order to watch the film then they’ll be riveted by it. Even the slowest paced scenes in the film were shot with such a bizarre lack of sophistication that, by the end of the film, I had little idea what had happened.
That wasn’t helped by the fact that the acting and writing were by some distance the worst that I’ve seen this year. The characters were clichéd to the point where I began to suspect that the writers were having a joke at the expense of the genre. But if there was sarcasm intended it was overridden by the skull crushingly, plastic (wooden is too organic a word) sincerity of the actors’ delivery (yes, even you Aaron Eckhart, Mr.Serious Actor). What they thought they were doing getting involved in a project that contained a series of speeches so contrived and offensively pedestrian will remain one of Hollywood’s mysteries.