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.

Paul Szoldra/Task & Purpose

The admiral in charge of Navy special operators will decide whether to revoke the tridents for Eddie Gallagher and other SEALs involved in the Navy's failed attempt to prosecute Gallagher for murder, a defense official said Tuesday.

The New York Times' David Philipps first reported on Tuesday that the Navy could revoke the SEAL tridents for Gallagher as well as his former platoon commander Lt. Jacob Portier and two other SEALs: Lt. Cmdr. Robert Breisch and Lt. Thomas MacNeil.

The four SEALs will soon receive a letter that they have to appear before a board that will consider whether their tridents should be revoked, a defense official told Task & Purpose on condition of anonymity.

Read More Show Less

Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman made sure to take the time to correct a Congressman on Tuesday while testifying before Congress, requesting that he be addressed by his officer rank and not "Mr."

Read More Show Less
From left to right: Naval Special Warfare Operator First Class Eddie Gallagher, Army 1Lt. Clint Lorance, and Army Special Forces Maj. Mathew Golsteyn

On Friday, President Donald Trump intervened in the cases of three U.S. service members accused of war crimes, granting pardons to two Army soldiers accused of murder in Afghanistan and restoring the rank of a Navy SEAL found guilty of wrongdoing in Iraq.

While the statements coming out of the Pentagon regarding Trump's actions have been understandably measured, comments from former military leaders and other knowledgable veterans help paint a picture as to why the president's Friday actions are so controversial.

Read More Show Less

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. aircraft carrier strike group Abraham Lincoln sailed through the vital Strait of Hormuz on Tuesday, U.S. officials told Reuters, amid simmering tensions between Iran and the United States.

Tensions in the Gulf have risen since attacks on oil tankers this summer, including off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, and a major assault on energy facilities in Saudi Arabia. Washington has blamed Iran, which has denied being behind the attacks on global energy infrastructure.

Read More Show Less

Iran continues to support the Taliban to counter U.S. influence in Afghanistan, a recent Defense Intelligence Agency report on Iran's military power says.

Iran's other goals in Afghanistan include combating ISIS-Khorasan and increasing its influence in any government that is formed as part of a political reconciliation of the warring sides, according to the report, which the Pentagon released on Tuesday.

Read More Show Less