I’ll say this right off the bat: do not watch Man Down if you’re already in a mood, because it will emotionally lay you the fuck out. I learned that the hard way the other night. Billed as a war film, marketed as such and discreetly snuck onto iTunes without so much as a hint of theatrical release, its easy to see why they’ve tried to bury this one, it’s the bleakest film I’ve seen so far this year, and possibly the previous one. If there’s any doubt still surrounding Shia Labeouf’s acting talent (there shouldn’t be at this point), his work here should solidify greatness. All publicity antics and oddball muckery aside, he’s proven time and again that he’s one hell of a performer, and this is the best work he’s ever done, by a long shot. As Afghan war vet Gabriel Drummer, he’s put through an emotional wringer, sent back to an America ravaged by some vague pandemic, on a hopeless mission to locate his wife (Kate Mara) and young son (Charlie Shotwell). Joined by his best friend and fellow soldier Devin (Jai Courtney), Gabriel’s mission seems hazy and desperate, his family always just out of reach, tormented by the psychological wounds of combat but determined not to give up. This is interspersed with an extended dialogue scene between him and General Peyton (Gary Oldman, restrained, patient and careful), in which he heartbreakingly opens up about the horrors he has seen. This is where Labeouf shines, his tears uncannily genuine, his work visibly shaking up Oldman and tearing at the edges of the screen in it’s implosive intensity. Trust me, this is not the film you are expecting, not even close. By the time the third act rolls around and you see what’s really going on, you’re emotionally sucker punched when least expecting it, and the film’s quiet, devastating anti-war message is hit home with the force of a sledgehammer. I can’t say too much more without ruining it, but it’s one of the most thoughtful, understanding war films I’ve seen, one that gets the reality of what it’s like to have seen such atrocities, and come out of it a different person. Strong, stinging stuff that takes a while to shake off.