Sam Strange Remembers: BATTLE: LOS ANGELES

Sam Strange explains to you all the things you didn’t understand about his movie that opened this past weekend.

I’ve been taking a lot of heat this weekend over Battlefield: Los Angeles, and I think it’s bullshit. I made exactly the movie I set out to make. If you have problem with it, that’s your deal. It means you’re short-sighted and overly judgmental and probably a turd, and Clint Eastwood would never hang out with you.

This is a war movie. In fact it’s the ultimate war movie, culled from my 30 year obsession with talking to old people and collaborating their small exaggerations with more than a thousand Hollywood war films. Maybe I never fired a rifle or armed a grenade with my teeth, but I’ve been in the shit. A lot more than Noam Chomsky or Randy Newman ever were, anyway.

You don’t like the movie? Good. You’re not supposed to. War is Hell. Why in God’s name would you expect to enjoy it? Battlefield: Los Angeles rubs war in your face. It makes you feel the misery, the boredom of war firsthand. Somebody’s got to do it. Someone’s got to try, dammit! I’m out to save the world, and I plan on leaving no viewer behind.

War Reality Number One:
In war, chaos rei…er…Wackiness rules.

You’ll notice while watching Battlefield: Los Angeles, that very little makes sense. Information never quite matches with what we see onscreen. For instance, we’re told early on that the enemy has no air presence. But as Thomas Jane and his troops helicopter into the shit, there’s bombs going off in the sky all over the place. So do the enemies have planes or what? You don’t know! You’re just a grunt. Who’s firing at who? Who cares? This is war! Wackiness rules!

How many enemies are there anyway? Millions? Thousands? Wouldn’t that be comforting to know? Too bad. Just keep shooting. It’s your job as a soldier to keep firing. It doesn’t matter if the bad guys suddenly have air support. It doesn’t matter if the bad guys can suddenly track your cell phones. It doesn’t matter that the bad guys suddenly ride missile-firing Segways across broken freeways. You just keep your finger on that trigger.

But how many bullets does it take to kill an enemy? Anywhere from one to one thousand. Each enemy is different. We find at one point that if you open up their chest, stab it, open up the brain chest underneath, stab it, open up the insulation chest underneath, and stab it, you will come across their water chest. If you stab that place they’ll die instantly. Great intel! Too bad you can’t rely on technical precision in the middle of a firefight. When bombs and bullets are burning your ear-hairs, you think you can accurately shoot “just left of where the heart would be?” And who’s left are we talking about? The enemy’s or Thomas Jane’s? You don’t know! This is war! Wackiness rules!

War Reality Number Two:
The enemy is an alien.

When you spend your entire adolescence desperately keeping yourself from killing others, it takes great effort to undo all that repression and finally let yourself be all you can be. The trick is to rob the enemy of all recognizable humanity so you don’t feel bad. Define them by their love for sauerkraut. Draw pictures of them with big buck teeth and squinty eyes. Talk despairingly about their desert-ameliorating head attire. Picture them all fucking camels. In Battlefield: Los Angeles, I simply made this leap literal. The enemy is an alien.

I couldn’t tell you what kind of aliens they are. I hardly even know what they look like. That’s the point. These aliens were specifically designed to disappear in your brain as soon as you see them. Absolutely nothing about them sticks out. Do they have eyes? Can’t remember. Do they wear armor? Not sure. What color are they? Um, I think parts of them were silver-ish? Wiped of any noticeable features whatsoever, these aliens don’t even engender the empathy of a World’s Ugliest Dog winner. Go on, and shoot the shit out of them. They’re the most alien aliens imaginable.

War Reality Number Three:
Soldiers, especially Marines, cry a lot.

Maybe you think a day surrounded by four walls of killing will harden a man’s heart. Not so. In reality, for every man that dies, ten men stop fighting so they can cry about it.  Each person is an individual, and if one goes down in your vicinity, it’s more or less like you killed them yourself, especially if you’re the guy in charge.

Battlefield: Los Angeles features two team leaders, one heroic, one cowardly. The rookie leader instantly places his team into a deeply stupid trap, and many of them die. Later, he gets them into another really bad trap, and many more are killed. He carries the weight of each man’s soul on his shoulders until he finally pays his debt by blowing himself up. He was a heroic leader.

Thomas Jane, on the other hand, is a cowardly leader, and he’s been at it for some time. Back in the day, some of his people got killed, and it was his fault because he didn’t die, too. A good leader would blow himself up, but instead Thomas Jane lets himself get old and even tries to retire. The best he’s willing to give is a little statistic memorizing for each dead soldier.

Ares gives him another chance to blow himself up with this alien invasion, but instead of taking it, Thomas Jane keeps living, this time even letting a civilian die (afterwords he memorizes the guy’s drivers license). Age is not a soldier’s friend, as Thomas Jane himself averred in a different film: “You either die a hero or live long enough to be come a villain.” He may not be a villain in this movie, but he’s a pretty piss-poor Marine. All violent gruff and no heart.

The other soldiers are good, though. It’s not their place to blow themselves up, but they do adhere to the idea that everyone should stop shooting and cry whenever someone gets shot or blown up. As everyone in the shit knows, self-destructive guilt is the only thing tying you to humanity on a battlefield. A good soldier holds it with all his might. The aliens don’t have this powerful asset. That’s why they only spend 99.9% of this film winning.

In Conclusion, I think every one of you should go rewatch Battlefield: Los Angeles with this new perspective, though I’m disappointed how little you were paying attention in the first place. If the film is a true success, I’ll be allowed to go ahead with my planned sequel, Battlefield: Earth, and it’s DTV prequel Battlefield: Tulsa. Our armed forces do so much for us. It’s the least we can do to at least share with them the horrors of war, no matter how unpleasant they make us feel. To those who refuse: I don’t see how you can call yourself an American. Thanks for letting the terrorists win.

(three stars)