“Lone Survivor” is the latest film from director/actor Peter Berg (Battleship, Friday Night Lights). It’s based on a true story about the failed 2005 mission “Operation Red Wings”. Four members of a Seal team were assigned the task of capturing or killing Taliban leader Ahmad Shahd. It stars Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Eric Bana. I manage to get my hands on a pre-screener of the film but I’m very keen to catch it at the theatres in February too. It’s been a while since a pure War film has come out of Hollywood (not including the fantastic “Zero Dark Thirty”). I think people tend to be fooled into thinking that these kinds of films are Propaganda for the United States Armed Forces. I didn’t find that at all. Yes its realistic and very brutal and as it should be, its war. I don’t think this glorifies a single thing about war. After 2 hours and feeling exhausted, I can safely say I don’t envy these men and women that put their lives on the line and fight for their country.
Anyways, onto the movie itself. It opens with a very controlled narration from Marcus Luttrell (who the film is based upon), played by Mark Wahlberg. We then get some very well placed footage of US Navy and Armed forces training. They are going through boot camp and seeing if they have what it takes to be in the US marine corp, I thought that was a nice touch. The movie has some wonderful sound effects and nice light ambient score throughout, that hits you on another emotional level. Explosions in The Sky have performed a lot of the music for Peter’s films including this one. They are a very talented group. It’s a very crisply shot film with great cinematography of the mountainous landscape of Afghanistan. It gives you a real insight into the ground this war was fought on. It’s of the utmost importance that a film like this feels completely real. You should feel like you are in the moment with this team of four men and it captures that exceptionally well.
It’s a good length at just 2 hours, it never feels like it’s dragging itself along. In the beginning we are introduced to the team of four whom the story is about. Marcus (Wahlberg), Michael Murphy (Kitsch), Danny Dietz (Hirsch) and Matt ‘Axe’ Axelson (Foster). We don’t really see how they gel as a unit until they are actually sent on the mission. Other than a bit of banter and friendly competition they appear to just be your average American men. The different personalities shine through when they hit the first fork in the road while scouting for a position to move from. During several points throughout the film, moral dilemma’s come into play. It puts you right in the thick of the decision-making. What would I do? How would I make a decision? Would it be the right decision?
Let me talk about the performances for a minute. I think both Hirsch and Kitsch have more of a supporting role, even though they feature quiet heavily. I think this is some of Taylor’s best work though and Emile is always a professional and doesn’t disappoint either. I think Mark was the correct choice to play Marcus. He just commands your attention in a role like this. He represents the All American man without falling into the macho stereotype and that’s always a tricky balance. I think the standout performance though comes from Ben Foster. What an absolute talent this 33-year-old is. I’ve been a massive fan of Ben’s since “Bang Bang You’re Dead” which was over a decade ago. 3:10 to Yuma, The Messenger, Alpha Dog and 360 are just a few of the movies that he has stood out in as a genuine force to be reckoned with. You get the feeling that Axe would do just about anything for his friends and family and that he lives life with love in his heart and that makes him truly inspirational. Ben should be very proud of his work in this film.
Lone Survivor doesn’t have any aspects you can really fault. I think the higher-ups in the chain of command miscalculated widely on the number of enemies the group would encounter. Some better recon and information needed to be gathered before this mission ever went ahead and sadly it wasn’t. I noticed that nobody in the Apache’s seemed very concerned about RPG’S firing at them which baffled me a little bit. They are one of the select few weapons that can take down air support and everyone seemed a little oblivious to that fact. I don’t know enough about the real mission and maybe that part was fictionalised for the film. Or maybe that’s how it actually happened, if so I apologise. I think the only missed opportunity in the film was maybe the chance to do a little more background and character development on each of the men in their personal lives. I suppose it was a re-creation of events though so they didn’t have to include that. I think it could have added another layer to see these men in day-to-day life, it could have helped form a connection even more so.
Lone Survivor is unrelenting, realistically brutal and emotionally heavy and by far one of the absolute best pictures of the year. Peter Berg is quickly becoming one of the best modern directors in Hollywood, I can’t wait to see what he does next. You will feel this movie right from word go. It’s not bullshit, it’s not Propaganda, it’s exactly what you see on the screen and there is nothing being glorified in this film at all. It’s messy and heart wrenching and in the end nobody really wins. This is the best thing since “Black Hawk Down” and I highly recommend seeing this upon its official release!
My rating for “Lone Survivor” is 8.5/10