Battleground (2012), coming to Blu-ray and DVD on August 28, 2012 from Well Go USA, is exactly what you’d cynically expect of a cross between Reservoir Dogs with First Blood: a flashy, dull mess of an actioner. The film follows a group of men fresh off a botched heist in Flint, Michigan who must lie low in a distinctly non-Michigan forest until their getaway plane arrives. There they come under assault by a crazed Vietnam veteran known only as “The Hunter,” who has apparently, since his discharge from the military, constructed an elaborate system of tunnels beneath the Michigan forest from which he can stalk his prey (i.e. anyone who enters the forest) with ease.
In blending together the cinematic tropes of the heist film and the survival film, the makers of Battleground totally overlooked the key element to the success of such films as Reservoir Dogs and First Blood, which you can’t help but draw comparisons to when discussing Battleground. Both those films, and any successful feature like them, rely on characters with easily identifiable motivations to draw viewers into the action, resulting in what we commonly refer to as “investment.” John Rambo we identify with when his long hair and shabby attire find him unjustly incarcerated by the authorities of Hope, Washington. We understand his emotional state as he embarks on his one-man war against said authorities. Similarly, we empathize with the characters of Reservoir Dogs as they desperately struggle to piece together the events that left their group in tatters, even if our investment here lies solely with the police officer embedded in their ranks. As broadly drawn as the characters are in these two pictures, the majority of viewers will ultimately buy into the films’ action elements precisely because the action is naturally motivated by the characters.
By contrast, the action of Battleground arises out of the necessity of the plot and the excessively two-dimensional stereotyping of the characters in both dialogue and action. The film supplies us with virtually no character motivation whatsoever that could potentially result in our investment in this unbearably bland bunch. So obscure are their motivations in fact that the events of the film seem motivated only by the actions of similar characters in other movies or by the characters’ vague roles within the film. The robbers fight over the money because that’s what robbers do in movies, not because they have any particular reason to be dissatisfied with their shares, and the hunter hunts them because Vietnam veterans in such movies are often war-hardened madmen, not because he has any past of his own. And then of course there’s the film’s token female character, who exists simply because all films need a female character, I guess, not because she adds anything to the story whatsoever.
Battleground has some other, more nitpicky problems, sure, but they’re hardly worth mentioning in the face of the film’s insurmountable lack of character.