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Review: Land of Bad (2024)

Land of Bad (2024)

Directed by: William Eubank

Premise: An elite American military unit deploys in the Philippines. When the mission goes awry, an inexperienced soldier (Liam Hemsworth) must find his way to the extraction point with the assistance of a drone operator (Russell Crowe).

What Works: One of the underreported trends in cinema these past few years has been a steady supply of impressive combat films such as All Quiet on the Western Front, Greyhound, Devotion, The Covenant, and The Outpost. Land of Bad is another title in this trend and it mixes the buddies-in-action scenario seen in many combat pictures with elements unique to contemporary warfare, namely the role of drones as dramatized in Eye in the Sky. The story unfolds from the point of view of an Air Force JTAC (Joint Terminal Attack Controller: a soldier who coordinates air support) assigned with a Delta force team as they attempt to rescue a CIA agent held captive by terrorists. The JTAC is the outsider of the group which makes him dramatically compelling and actor Liam Hemsworth plays this character as simultaneously competent at his job but also inexperienced in the field; this combination makes for a compelling hero. As the mission goes sideways, the JTAC is isolated and must rise to the occasion. Land of Bad satisfies as a war film, offering the visceral thrills and masculine appeals that audiences typically look for. The action sequences are highly polished while also retaining a gritty realism. The action cuts back and forth between the field and a drone control center. The filmmakers integrate the action well in ways that compound the excitement and allow for some characterization. Russell Crowe plays the drone operator and he contributes a lot of color and humanity to the picture.

What Doesn’t: Hollywood has a longstanding cooperative relationship with the United States military and filmmakers have consistently created pictures that celebrate American military might while downplaying or ignoring the political implications or moral consequences of militarism. Land of Bad is yet another film that places American soldiers in the field but never asks meaningful questions about why they are there. In that respect, Land of Bad is no different than a lot of Hollywood’s output. But like many equivalent pictures, Land of Bad ought to be understood as part of a larger propaganda effort by the military industrial complex and it relies on familiar war genre tropes. The characters are thin and the story is familiar. We’re given just enough information to place these soldiers into recognizable character slots and the story works through a familiar pattern we’ve seen in other pictures. This is Missing in Action and Rambo: First Blood Part II but in a slightly more realistic context.  

Bottom Line: Land of Bad is a well-made combat film. It does not reinvent the genre but it does fulfill what audiences look for in this kind movie.

Episode: #986 (February 25, 2024)