A fight to the death in an urban hell between US Marines and an implacable, evil foe who murders civilians without a second thought – if only Hollywood had the moral courage to tell that story straight, the story of America’s finest who battled to victory over jihadi degenerates in Fallujah and throughout Iraq and Afghanistan. But Hollywood can’t tell that story, not without exchanging the real menace our men and women are fighting everyday for a horde of CGI space aliens. Sadly, the industry lacks the moral courage of the men and women it portrays.
Let’s be clear – Battle: Los Angeles is a terrific action film that makes no bones about its pro-American, pro-military agenda. And that fact has invited carping from the usual suspects, lefty movie critics who work themselves up into a lather over the portrayal of better men than they will ever be.
And note that when I use the term “men” here, I include the fighting women of the US armed forces – don’t worry, critics: Heroines like Sergeant Leigh Ann Hester will protect you . . . just move to the rear with the children and try not to get in the way.
The fact is that science fiction has long been a tool to comment on the present, including the relationship between our warriors and our society. Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers was a fascinating depiction of military life as well as what the author saw as a degrading, decaying culture. The Paul Verhoeven film of the same name, though different in tone, had its own insights into military vulture, including coed showers and a machine gun-packing Doogie Howser.
The Forever War mirrored Joe Haldeman’s Vietnam War experiences. Aliens, back before James Cameron decided that American troops were an enemy to be exterminated, has a solid take on military life. Even the popcorn flick Independence Day, superficially similar in theme if not tone, demonstrated the military values of courage and honor – plus it featured a 9mm M9 Beretta-firing Adam Baldwin.
As awesome as Battle: LA is – and it is awesome – it is also sad that the only way Hollywood will depict the brave men and women of our modern armed forces is in the context of a fantasy. There’s no need to create hideous villains – they exist. Too bad the people who greenlight movies can get behind zapping space bugs from Venus but dare not depict the struggle of our troops against the buddies of the scumbags who flew planes into our buildings a decade ago.
There is nothing wrong with Battle: LA itself. It is highly entertaining and visually spectacular, especially to those of us who live in Los Angeles and know the area – I drove through one of the battle locations this very afternoon. And, most importantly, it gets the troops right.
The tough sergeant is dead on in many ways, while each of the characters is a distinct individual that anyone who has served in uniform will recognize. The critics’ whining about “cardboard characters” is simply nonsense – the fact is most of these limo liberals probably don’t know any warriors. If there was any doubt their “criticism” is simply agenda-fueled cheerleading, their “Eek, a mouse!” reaction to Battle: LA proves it. Frankly, its characters (thanks in no small part to a team of talented young actors I look forward to seeing again in the future) were more authentic than the hipster smartasses of the insufferable Juno or the fake cowpokes of Brokeback Mountain. But then, it might take a little courage to stand up at a Manhattan cocktail party and say “You know, I really felt the camaraderie of the Marines in Battle: LA…wait, are you ok? Someone call a doctor!”
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It hit me personally as well, especially in the form of the young lieutenant taking his unit into theater for the first time – because twenty years ago that was me during Desert Storm. Here’s a special shout-out to actor Ramon Rodriguez as Second Lieutenant Martinez – he got it. The desire to accomplish the mission, the responsibility for his platoon, the knowledge that as a lieutenant he really didn’t know anything – and further props to Aaron Eckhart as Staff Sergeant Nantz, who helps train his lieutenant as generations of noncommissioned officers have trained their officers (including this one).
What’s interesting too is how the Marines learn and adapt to fight the invaders. In an early scene, they are nearly routed in an ambush sequence so well-directed that I almost shouted “Get that %$#&%$ machine gun firing!” at the screen when everyone went to ground. But the unit pulls together and they do what US troops always do – they adapt, improvise and overcome.
The end scene is particularly welcome – let’s just say that Kumbayah ain’t on these guys’ iPods. Battle: LA, in a way, commits two acts of Hollywood sacrilege. It shows American troops as heroes, and it proudly says that our country is worth fighting for. No wonder Roger Ebert is spazzing out on Twitter; this kind of thoughtcrime is a million times more transgressive than all the pretentious “Let’s freak out the bourgeois squares” art film nonsense he’s defended over the years.
Also appreciated – the scene where the Marines link up with a Soldier who announces he’s part of the 40th Infantry Division – the California Army National Guard unit whose patch I wore for nearly two decades.
As exciting and fun and welcome as Battle: LA is, it’s just too bad that the only time American fighting men and women seem to get treated with any respect in Hollywood is if the war that’s being depicted happened a half-century ago, or if the enemy has tentacles. Well, there is a real enemy out there, one who wants us enslaved or dead. When is Hollywood going to display even one one-hundredth of the courage of America’s warriors and dare to tell that story?