Look, Shia LaBeouf was approximately the 27th worst thing in that last Indiana Jones movie. Now, in the ripely bizarre Man Down, Dito Montiel's green-screened puzzle-mess of PTSD counseling and post-apocalyptic cityscapes, LaBeouf is far and away the best thing in a film -- and that would probably be true even if the film weren't a confused and ugly howler.
Beefed up but still tremblingly emotive, LaBeouf stars as a stoic Marine being calmly questioned by some muckety-muck played by Gary Oldman. At issue is what Oldman's character calls "the incident," a disastrous encounter in an Afghan city, but LaBeouf's grunt is eager to speak of anything but. So we get flashbacks to his Marine training, where LaBeouf's character -- Gabriel -- is tear-gassed and then told to open his eyes and keep going. Scenes of Gabriel and his family also involve him taking toxins through his eye-holes: He watches The O'Reilly Factor and hears paranoid blather about imminent chemical warfare.
That connects his past to the film's third timeline. Sometime after the interview about the incident, Gabriel and a squadmate wander the hokey CGI remains of Camp LeJeune, the last survivors of some world-destroying incident.
LaBeouf is especially strong in scenes with Charlie Shotwell, who plays his young son. His hard edge softens, and you'll catch that smile that first started winning him roles way back when in the first place, but Gabriel is always wearing manliness as a kind of shield. Too bad the movie has a world to destroy and an unconscionably cruel twist to get to, one that makes the most ridiculous of melodrama out of soldiers' trauma.