There's something odd appearing in the skies above LA. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's an alien invasion force, but there's no need for any 'Close Encounters'-style communication with keyboards or offers to phone home here because these extra-terrestrials aren't friendly. They're here for our fresh water or salt water (or something) and only a crack squad of US Marines can save the day.
If you were pitching the plot of 'Battle: Los Angeles' in classic Hollywood argot, it would be something along the lines of 'Cloverfield' meets 'War of the Worlds' meets 'District 9' meets every war game you've ever played on your Nintendo DS. It's fast, it's furious, it's loud and it contains every "hoo-hah, sir-yes-sir" US Marine cliché in the book. But here's the thing: it does exactly what it says on the tin. If you want 'Battleship Potemkin', don't go to see 'Battle: Los Angeles'.
Though it loses points for an over-reliance on gung-ho, flag-waving clichés, what Liebesman's film does well is recreate the pressures and tensions of a battle scenario. Where most war movies open up the screen to reveal the broader canvas, Liebesman keeps his hand-held cameras so close you feel you are a part of the ever-dwindling Marine unit as they head into the fray. (Keeping the camera close also helps disguise the fact that most of the movie was shot in Louisiana, not LA).
Perhaps the best decision made by the film-makers, however, was in the casting of Aaron Eckhart as the Staff Sergeant through whose eyes all of the events unfold. Eckhart is a terrific, dramatic actor in whom the audience can relate. Had they cast, say, Channing Tatum or any number of lantern-jawed Hollywood hero types, that empathy would have been absent.
'Battle: Los Angeles' is only one of many alien movies heading for our screens this year, including 'Cowboys & Aliens', 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon' and JJ Abrams' 'Super 8'. The message from Hollywood is clear: keep watching the skies.