Don’t let those stunts fool you, Shia LaBeouf is still a heck of an actor when he wants to be

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A Marine returns home after a trip to Afghanistan and desperately searches for his family in a post-apocalyptic wasteland in “Man Down,” a tricky little drama that doesn’t announce its intentions until a late-inning twist alters its playing field.

Shia LaBeouf stars as Gabriel Drummer, who leaves behind his wife Natalie (Kate Mara) and son Johnathan (Charlie Shotwell) when he’s sent off to war.

In the film’s jumbled timeline, we see Gabriel spending time with his family, training for the Marines (Tory Kittles is his orders-barking, F-bomb dropping drill instructor), off at war (Jai Courtney plays Devin, his soldier buddy and lifelong friend), meeting with a military psychologist (Gary Oldman) and hunting for his family after an act of bio-terror lays waste to his hometown.

Director Dito Montiel, who previously worked with LaBeouf in “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints,” parses out the story slowly and keeps viewers guessing as to where this train is headed. Upon its arrival, the film reveals itself to be an effective study of a soldier’s psyche and the trauma of battle.

LaBeouf, who oozed oily charisma in this year’s “American Honey,” ably carries “Man Down” on his shoulders. He has an easy, natural chemistry with Shotwell, and he’s a reservoir of buried emotions in his scenes with Oldman.

LaBeouf’s off-camera stunts — whether it’s sitting in on a marathon of his films at a New York cinema or dropping freestyle raps on Shade 45 — have turned him into a sort of living modern art instillation. But with “Man Down” he proves he’s first and foremost an actor, and a darn good one at that.

agraham@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2284

@grahamorama

‘Man Down’

GRADE: B

Rated R for some disturbing violence, and language throughout

Running time: 92 minutes

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