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Battle: Los Angeles

Year: 2011
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Writer: Chris Bertolini
Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez

I don't know how many reviews I start by making reference to what Hollywood gets so right and so wrong at the same time, but this is certainly one of those. The action, the cinematography, the effects, the pacing and the tone of this film is as effective and visceral as the best films from the war movie genre, including Saving Private Ryan. And the script, the acting and the characters are as undercooked and hackneyed as the worst of the teen comedy genre.

But make no mistake, it's a war movie and not a sci-fi movie. The first few scenes have all the trappings of great sci-fi – from the moody anticipation as a group of interstellar bodies close in on Earth to the shock as they start plunging into the ocean around the world. But when the first weapons are launched from the invading alien armada it turns into an urban Black Hawk Down as a shell-shocked but disciplined band of marines lead survivors through war-torn Los Angeles to a safe zone before the air force unleashes a monster air attack.

The attention to detail in the production design is fantastic – watch as the alien craft are held aloft by the constant jets of gas to overcome Earth gravity. And the camerawork suits the story perfectly, director Jonathan Liebesman crash-panning, whipping and zooming everywhere and running with the actors like Paul Greengrass on crack.

But every time the action slows down to make way for characterisation or dialogue you'll roll your eyes and groan. In its mastery of the cinematic arts and complete botching of any realistic sense of script and character it's the natural descendant of Avatar and a very close cousin to Sanctum 3D.

Of course, it's bound to have at least one major fan. No other institution does such an effective job advertising the virtues of the US military as Hollywood with its routine portrayal of can-do, knockabout tough guys who love their families and their country and would never leave a buddy behind.

It's doubtless because making any big adventure film about the military wouldn't get anywhere without their help with props and extras, and if you go to them with a story that depicts soldiers as layabout bozos (Stripes), drug dealers (Buffalo Soldiers) or rebellious trouble makers (Tigerland) they won't lend you a single bullet to help.

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