“Man Down,” as the Marine Gabriel Drummer (Shia LaBeouf)
patiently explains to his young son, Johnathan (Charlie Shotwell), is
military slang for when somebody in the unit gets wounded, and the
paramedics need to come help him.
Gabriel is dropping off Johnathan at school, and Johnathan has
told his Dad that he's being bullied, but doesn't want his Dad to go
out there and “fix it” for him.
He says it all started because his Mom, Natalie (Kate Mara),
told him she loved him in the hearing of the other kids, who made fun
of him for being a Momma's boy.
Gabriel loves his son, and says that he wants to be able to
tell him that as he leaves the car to go to school, also, but maybe
they need a special phrase, just between each other, that means the
same thing. They decide on
“Man Down.” It's their
special code phrase for “I love you.”
Later, back on base housing, Johnathan is old enough to pick up
the cues when his Dad is getting ready to leave for Afghanistan again.
His Mom is sad, too. But
Gabriel explains that he feels obligated to his buddies back there,
even though his best friend, Devin (Jai Courtney), is staying behind
for a while because he put his arm through a window and it's still
healing. That kind of
injury should have been a clue, that PTSD was already beginning to
loom over our stalwart soldiers. But
so far, they'd felt invincible together, they had each other's backs,
they were fighting for their country, and all that hard work in
training camp was paying off.
Yes, we have flashbacks to the training camp, where the classic
Drill Instructor does his usual verbal abuse routine, constantly
yelling at the recruits, pushing them physically as well as
emotionally, and constantly telling them how worthless they were, as a
rough way to teach both self-reliance and obedience, as preparation
for the difficulties of being sent to the front lines.
Except that the front lines weren't really a classic
battlefield situation, where the enemy was in uniform, lined up in
front of you, and it was very clear who were the good guys and who
were the bad guys. No,
this was different. This
was that awful urban/guerilla warfare where the civilians can suddenly
turn into militia, but you don't know where the attack is coming from,
and you could drive over an explosive device any time, and you don't
speak the language, and the culture bewilders you, and your unit is an
unwelcome part of the hated foreigners, the occupiers.
It's the kind of situation that can make your mind play tricks
on you, and where you can be suddenly confronted with a volatile
situation that appears benign, but could quickly turn violent at any
Gabriel and his buddy Devin find themselves stranded in a
strange part of town because of an equipment breakdown.
Their little squad is on the lookout for any suspicious
activity, but so far they only see civilians peeking out of the
windows. Until suddenly
the formerly peaceful setting erupts in explosion and gunfire.
The squad takes hits, and casualties.
They see the gunfire is coming from a second-story window in
the next building, so they do what they were trained to do:
they move forward to neutralize the danger.
But what they experience there is the nightmare they had all
Gabriel survives, physically, but mentally, he's not the same.
He tries to shake it off, and move forward, but he's been
ordered to see a counselor. The
sessions with Counselor Peyton (Gary Oldman) are frustrating for
Gabriel, who feels that anybody who hasn't been there can't possibly
understand. And in a way,
he's right. And in another
way, he's not going to be “right” if he doesn't deal with this.
This one's a gut-wrencher.
The viewer sees things from Gabriel's perspective, which means
that things are not what they appear.
But what is clear is that PTSD is part of the uncounted
casualties of sending our soldiers to such a horrific war zone.
There are precious few good outcomes.