Can Shia LeBeouf Convey The Trauma Of Combat?

Entertainment
Screenshot from "Man Down" Trailer

In more ways than one, actor Shia LaBeouf is the perfect actor to embody a young Marine struggling with the effects of combat as he does in new movie, “Man Down,” directed by Dito Montiel.


As the son of a Vietnam veteran who suffered from flashbacks, LaBeouf knows the personal struggle many Americans face when they return home from war. He knows the battle sometimes never ends.

Additionally, LaBeouf underwent a military-style boot camp supervised former U.S. Marine turned Hollywood producer, Nick Jones Jr., where at one-point, LeBeouf subjected himself to pepper spray while being pummeled with batons and martial arts bags — training usually given to Marines attending the non-lethal weapons and tactics course, according to “Man Down” screenwriter Adam Simon.

Screenshot from "Man Down" trailer.

This wasn’t the first time LaBeouf took a beating for a military role. In preparation for the film, “Fury,” LaBeouf ripped out his own tooth and repeatedly cut own face with a knife to make his war wounds more lifelike. He also went months without bathing and sought training with the National Guard.

“I’m honored to stand in front of you this evening. We put a lot of love into this movie,” LaBeouf told an audience of active-duty and military veterans this past November at an advanced showing of “Man Down” in New York City.

Related: Shia LaBeouf Plays Marine Vet In New Post-Apocalyptic War Movie »

Unlike most movies meant to entertain or provide an escape, “Man Down” shows the American citizenry the psychological toll war can have on those we send to war.

The hyperbolic realism presented in “Man Down” by LaBeouf’s character, Lance Cpl. Gabriel Drummer, can be compared that of the 1992 film, “Scent of a Woman,” in which an unlikeable and erratic Frank Slade, played brilliantly by Al Pacino, struggles with the inner demons of his military past.

“I have seen boys like these, younger than these, their arms torn out, their legs ripped off! But there is nothing like the sight of an amputated spirit. There is no prosthetic for that,” Pacino yells.

It is in a similar condition that we meet Drummer as he treads across desolate streets and past decaying buildings with blood-red graffiti that screams, “America, we have a problem!”

“Man Down” jumps frequently from this apocalyptic hellscape to present day where Drummer undergoes the hardships of Marine infantry training, forming relationships through adversity and navigating the complex waters of a young marriage faced with their first deployment — not to mention having a child naïve to the problems of society, but mature enough to notice the underlying strife in his own home.

While those whom have served in the military could easily pick apart the inaccuracies of infantry training — warfare insignia badges worn by actor Gary Oldman or firefights in Afghanistan — these very minor discrepancies are quickly forgiven amid the plethora of military life the filmmakers got right and the compelling storytelling used to portray the way post-traumatic stress disorder.

The scenes between LaBeouf and his wife, played by Kate Mara from “House of Cards,” and his son (newcomer Charlie Shotwell) are genuine and heartbreaking as Mara and Shotwell both give imitable performances of a story that will seem all too familiar service members, in which broken marriages and dysfunctional homes — or worse — are commonplace.

While the filmmakers of “Man Down” agree that their story is not representative of all service members and veterans and shouldn’t be taken as such, the film is aimed at demonstrating the very real mental health issues — PTSD, major depression, traumatic brain injury — that one in five Iraq and Afghanistan veterans endured when they returned home and the impact of those struggles.

While the film has received a lot of criticism, the one reason “Man Down” is worth seeing is simply the Oscar-worthy performance from LaBeouf that seems to be cut from the same cloth as Robert De Niro’s “The Deer Hunter” as he fully embodies a combat Marine: loyal to both family and Corps; yet, riddled with survivor’s guilt that he hopelessly tries to bottle down and suppress.

Film critic Peter Debruge, writing in Variety, compared LaBeouf’s performance to Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift; however, he dinged the film for being an “awful mess” and a “appallingly manipulative psychological thriller, which scolds audiences for not caring enough about our veterans.”

Yet, what Debruge misses about “Man Down” is that the human story and the unique passion of Adam Simon, who crafted the screenplay eight years prior while being homeless, divorced, and bankrupt on the streets of Los Angeles, is that the film is meant to be raw and disjointed — there is no happy ending — because it’s society that’s reflected, and we are all responsible.

“We are what we consume,” Simon told Task & Purpose by phone. “We used to have these movies like ‘Taxi Driver,’ ‘Deer Hunter,’ and ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ that held a mirror to our society and that’s what ‘Man Down’ is doing.”

Simon added, “Our movie is here to punch you in the nuts and wake you up and say this is happening and if it happens to one person, it’s too many.”

“Man Down” is now playing in theaters.

(U.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Andrew Smith)

Three U.S. service members received non-life-threatening injuries after being fired on Monday by an Afghan police officer, a U.S. official confirmed.

The troops were part of a convoy in Kandahar province that came under attack by a member of the Afghan Civil Order Police, a spokesperson for Operation Resolute Support said on Monday.

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Marine Maj. Jose J. Anzaldua Jr. spent more than three years during the height of the Vietnam War. Now, more than 45 years after his release, Sig Sauer is paying tribute to his service with a special gift.

Sig Sauer on Friday unveiled a unique 1911 pistol engraved with Anzaldua's name, the details of his imprisonment in Vietnam, and the phrase "You Are Not Forgotten" accompanied by the POW-MIA flag on the grip to commemorate POW-MIA Recognition Day.

The gunmaker also released a short documentary entitled "Once A Marine, Always A Marine" — a fitting title given Anzaldua's courageous actions in the line of duty

Marine Maj. Jose Anzaldua's commemorative 1911 pistol

(Sig Sauer)

Born in Texas in 1950, Anzaldua enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1968 and deployed to Vietnam as an intelligence scout assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.

On Jan. 23, 1970, he was captured during a foot patrol and spent 1,160 days in captivity in various locations across North Vietnam — including he infamous Hỏa Lò Prison known among American POWs as the "Hanoi Hilton" — before he was freed during Operation Homecoming on March 27, 1973.

Anzaldua may have been a prisoner, but he never stopped fighting. After his release, he received two Bronze Stars with combat "V" valor devices and a Prisoner of War Medal for displaying "extraordinary leadership and devotion to his companions" during his time in captivity. From one of his Bronze Star citations:

Using his knowledge of the Vietnamese language, he was diligent, resourceful, and invaluable as a collector of intelligence information for the senior officer interned in the prison camp.

In addition, while performing as interpreter for other United States prisoners making known their needs to their captors, [Anzaldua] regularly, at the grave risk of sever retaliation to himself, delivered and received messages for the senior officer.

On one occasion, when detected, he refused to implicate any of his fellow prisoners, even though severe punitive action was expected.

Anzaldua also received a Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his heroism in December 1969, when he entered the flaming wreckage of a U.S. helicopter that crashed nearr his battalion command post in the country's Quang Nam Province and rescued the crew chief and a Vietnamese civilian "although painfully burned himself," according to his citation.

After a brief stay at Camp Pendleton following his 1973 release, Anzaldua attended Officer Candidate School at MCB Quantico, Virginia, earning his commission in 1974. He retired from the Corps in 1992 after 24 years of service.

Sig Sauer presented the commemorative 1911 pistol to Anzaldua in a private ceremony at the gunmaker's headquarters in Newington, New Hampshire. The pistol's unique features include:

  • 1911 Pistol: the 1911 pistol was carried by U.S. forces throughout the Vietnam War, and by Major Anzaldua throughout his service. The commemorative 1911 POW pistol features a high-polish DLC finish on both the frame and slide, and is chambered in.45 AUTO with an SAO trigger. All pistol engravings are done in 24k gold;
  • Right Slide Engraving: the Prisoner of War ribbon inset, with USMC Eagle Globe and Anchor and "Major Jose Anzaldua" engravings;
  • Top Slide Engraving: engraved oak leaf insignia representing the Major's rank at the time of retirement and a pair of dog tags inscribed with the date, latitude and longitude of the location where Major Anzaldua was taken as a prisoner, and the phrase "You Are Not Forgotten" taken from the POW-MIA flag;
  • Left Side Engraving: the Vietnam War service ribbon inset, with USMC Eagle Globe and Anchor engraving;
  • Pistol Grips: anodized aluminum grips with POW-MIA flag.

The top leaders of a Japan-based Marine Corps F/A-18D Hornet squadron were fired after an investigation into a deadly mid-air collision last December found that poor training and an "unprofessional command climate" contributed to the crash that left six Marines dead, officials announced on Monday.

Five Marines aboard a KC-130J Super Hercules and one Marine onboard an F/A-18D Hornet were killed in the Dec. 6, 2018 collision that took place about 200 miles off the Japanese coast. Another Marine aviator who was in the Hornet survived.

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A former Army soldier was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Thursday for stealing weapons from Fort Bliss, along with other charges.

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(U.S. Air Force photo illustration/Airman 1st Class Corey Hook)

Editor's Note: This article by Richard Sisk originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

The Department of Veterans Affairs released an alarming report Friday showing that at least 60,000 veterans died by suicide between 2008 and 2017, with little sign that the crisis is abating despite suicide prevention being the VA's top priority.

Although the total population of veterans declined by 18% during that span of years, more than 6,000 veterans died by suicide annually, according to the VA's 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report.

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