Battle: Los Angeles: Marine SOS Breakfast Recipe

Year Released: 2011
Directed by: Jonathan Liebesman
Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Bridget Moynahan, Michelle Rodriguez, Ramon Rodriguez
(PG-13, 116 min.)

"Come on, you sons of bitches! Do you want to live forever?" Gunnery Sgt. Daniel J Daly, USMC, 6 June 1918

Like a perfect roast beef, this film is not subtle, nuanced, or dripping in French chef political sauce. It is delicious, completely satisfying, and a bit bloody. Just the way I like it.

And maybe that’s what has bothered so many carping critics. I mean looking for nuance in such a film is like criticizing The King’s Speech for its lack of car chases. Instead, what I really think bothers these effete critics is that Battle: Los Angeles is so unabashedly pro American and pro military.

One has to go back all the way to World War II films to find such an undaunted focus on the enemy and its obliteration, unfettered with moral ambiguity, doubts over the righteousness of our cause or the justifications for theirs.

After that era, Hollywood looked on Korea, Viet Nam, Afghanistan and Iraq through a glass darkly, so we had to find our enemies in outer space to battle with patriotic fervor. But then the pro earth enthusiasm for Alien and Independence Day soon began to curdle as well. Critically lauded District 9 and Avatar had us actually rooting for the aliens over the earthlings, who were portrayed as stereotypical bad guys.

But there’s really no time in Battle: Los Angeles for our group of marines to ponder the nature of their enemy. In fact, at first the platoon of Camp Pendleton marines believes they are going to rescue civilians from the meteor ravaged coastline. Then a beautiful piece of stagecraft echoes our media driven world (where even the head of the CIA gets his updates from cable news). As the marines file past a live television hurrying to their waiting helicopter, they catch glimpses of what can no longer be dismissed as meteors. This is the genuine article, a cruel twist of Orson Welles’ 1939 documentary style radiocast War of the Worlds. Here the space invaders definitely are for real.

It’s a good thing they have battle-hardened Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) with them, even if he does have to postpone his upcoming retirement to be there. Of course, there’s considerable baggage as well as gear in his backpack. He has lost most of his men in a recent battle in the Mideast, one of them whose brother is now part of his new platoon. So Staff Sergeant Nantz is not just fighting off the aliens and their predator drones. Between his inner guilt and the distrust of his men, he is a one man Psy Ops unit.

Offsetting our battle weary sergeant is wet behind the ears 2nd Lt. Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez) who is nominally in charge. Nantz works past some of his own self-reproach as he coaxes Martinez through his disastrous first contact with the enemy. Helping them both is a fearless Air Force communications officer, Elena Santos (Michele Rodriguez) as well as one of the civilians they are assigned to rescue, Bridget Moynahan, playing a veterinarian. Both of these women are as brave as the marines they join.

Officer Santos helps clue them in on the epicenter of the invaders that directs the brutal and effective drone attacks, but she is no mere computer geek, as she quickly shows when she blasts away at the creatures with the rest of them. Our veterinarian helps them probe a dying creature, aptly described by critic Joe Belcastro as what “the offspring of a Transformer and the Predator would resemble if they could have a roll in the sack.” After prodding around the slime-ridden innards of one in his death throes, the precipitous pre autopsy on the alien threatens to be cut short by the arrival of its more animated cohorts about to bust down the doors of the convenience store they are holed up in. A final prod nails the kill point – just to the right of what would be its heart.

The hand held camera work is of the shaky variety, and some of the shots are under or over-exposed, creating a documentary cinéma vérité style that well captures the fog of war. The nonstop action does not let up, and it is enhanced by the tight focus on this small band and their race to get back to the FOC (Forward Operating Base) before the area is bombed to oblivion. Their plight becomes shorthand for the epic struggles that we know must be going on all over the globe, especially along coasts, because these creature seem to need and want our water supply.

And like the best of all battle films, this one is held together by acts of courage and self-sacrifice, redemption and atonement, those old-fashioned virtues eschewed in the edgy films in favor now. There are a few dips into sentimentality that seem a bit manipulative, but for the most part the film shows the same discipline we expect from our armed forces. That reality is perhaps due to the three-week boot camp that the entire cast went through before filming. Lead Aaron Eckhart used a method acting technique during that time, staying in character 24 hours a day during the project.

I’ll end my review with the words of some real viewers:

“This movie is worth watching if you like manly movies, no wimps allowed.”

“I really enjoyed it. But if you'd rather sip tea at home and cry over a love story, well, then go see something else.”

“The aliens were cool, and most important for me...the marines were not bumbling idiots getting knocked around like pansies. They were afraid, but courageous and well-trained, just like our real fighting men.”

“Eckhart's journey from detached/withdrawn has-been to the honest/selfless and inspirational heroic leader he becomes is totally believable and very moving.”

“If you looking for some artsy-fartsy film with a deep meaning and a poorly hidden social/political agenda, this ain't it. This is go-go-go non stop. Better than Independence Day.”

—Kathy Borich

Film-Loving Foodie

After getting back to safety, the surviving marines are offered rest and breakfast. In true marine style they refuse both and go back into battle. 

See what they missed in this authentic recreation of their favorite, SOS. I’ll let you figure what the letters stand for.

The story is that this recipe evolved in France during World War I when our Marines ate the French dish of roasted beef with cream gravy called “Boef le Crème de Argonne.” They had no utensils so they had to scoop it up on dry bread to eat it. “The men being very hungry did not complain but instead requested that this meal be served again, but with the proper utensils.” According to E. Wickenheiser:

The other branches of service (Army, Navy, etc.) will also serve their version of SOS, but they haven't mastered the Marine's technique of preparing this marvelous breakfast presentation.

The Army uses chipped and salted dried beef (yuk), and the Navy uses beans and tomatoes in their recipe (barf !); the Air Force gave up trying and our friends in the Coast Guard now eat breakfast in the nearest Marine mess hall.

A number of years ago (back in the 70's), San Francisco's own Marine Artillery General (Brigadier) Tiago, requested/ordered that a recipe for the Marine Corps famous S.O.S. (creamed beef on toast) be developed so that it could be serve to a small group of about eight (8) persons, this way the general could have his wife make it at home. The official recipe for the mess halls is for serving 300 or more. This challenge was taken up by his chief field artillery cook, M/Sgt Bernie Parker. After many tries and a few mistakes "Top" Parker came up with the following, near perfect, recipe.

Who knew our lowly SOS was once a gourmet meal with a long French name! 

Bon appétit!

Marine SOS Breakfast

(Serves 8 or two hungry Marines)

  • 1/2 lb. Ground Beef (ground chuck for flavor)
  • 1 tbs. Bacon fat (lard/Crisco or butter)
  • 3 tbs. Flour
  • 2 cups Whole milk (add more milk if you want it thinner)
  • 1/8 tsp. Salt
  • Pepper (to taste)
  • 8 slices dry toast

Using a large skillet (12"-14"), crumble and brown the ground beef with the fat and salt, remove the pan from the heat and let cool slightly.

Mix in the flour until all of the meat is covered, using all of the flour. Replace the skillet on the heat and stir in the milk, keep stirring until the mixture comes to a
boil and thickens (boil a minimum of 1 minute).
Serve over the toast. Salt & pepper to taste.

"Semper fi"

Recipe Source: