Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez and Michael Peña.
Distributor: Sony Pictures
Runtime: 116 mins. Reviewed in Nov 2011
This is not a close encounter of the friendly kind.
Aliens have been targeting earth in the last few decades, and not with kind intentions. Think War of the Worlds, think Independence Day, think Monsters, think Skyline. In fact, this looks and sounds like a bigger and louder version of Skyline.
As the film opens, we are in mid-battle. The Marines are on the go, then on the run, as mysterious craft are attacking not only Los Angeles but a dozen key cities around the world. It is all go, rendered all the more vivid because of the camera techniques, hand-held, television reporting style, so that we, the audience, are right there in the melee. As a reminder of this, CNN broadcasts are glimpsed throughout the film.
But then we are taken back 24 hours and introduced to members of the marine squad we will be following, lots of names on screen, close-ups and detail – though many of us will find it difficult to remember who is who. We see glimpses of ordinary lives: a marine farewelling his pregnant wife, friends shopping for a wedding, some playing golf with rowdy sex chat… But, we are introduced to the important character, Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz who has finished tours of duty in Iraq (and lost some heroic men in action, which rankles others) and is about to leave active service where he trains the recruits. He is played with genial conviction by Aaron Eckhard getting his chance as a screen action hero (heroics described as ‘that John Wayne action shit’ – with the inevitable response from the juniors, ‘who the hell is John Wayne?’).
Like the old World War II films, like Platoon and Black Hawk Down, the action focuses on one small representative group, their mission, their team work, their rescuing civilians, their encounters with the enemy, suffering losses as well as outwitting the invaders. It is all done with the ‘Oo-ra’ enthusiasm and dedication of the American forces.
Speaking of the American forces and given the 21st century involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan and troubled countries in the Arab world, the zest with which these young men give themselves and sacrifice themselves to ward off the attack and save the threatened, this film seems like something of a live recruitment poster, an appeal to macho gung-ho dedication and patriotism.
Interestingly, we don’t see any aliens for about 30 minutes. They are of the mechanical look variety, more than a touch of the robot. However, when the marines, with the help of a vet who is part of the rescued group (Bridget Moynahan), examine the physiology of the aliens, we realise they have muscular and organic intestines.
Some have complained that the action is repetitious and the hand-held camera work disconcerting. Maybe, but this is how this kind of action goes. It is slow, dangerous, people die, people use their wits, people are daring. Three of those rescued are children. There is a boy who loves his father who joins in the action which leads to tears and emotions all round.
Also joining the group is Michelle Rodriguez (seen lately as a pilot in Avatar) who has the info as to the control space ship (seemingly a replica of that in District 9). Fortunately, she and Nantz get the chance to use the information for a battle climax.
Easy to dismiss as another action show, but it can stand as a symbolic movie of popular American hawkish stances of our times.
12 Random Films…