Lone Survivor Review – The war movie we deserved
Having read the best-selling book and followed film development closely, I was ecstatic to attend an early release and bring you this Lone Survivor review:
Lone Survivor is a visceral and compelling film of friendship, devastating loss, and survival.
Skillfully directed by Peter Berg (Battleship, Friday Night Lights), it is the portrayal of failed Operation Redwing, through the eyes of Petty Officer Marcus Luttrell (a convincing Mark Wahlberg). One of the darkest chapters in US Navy SEAL’s history, Luttrell originally recounted his personal experience in his gripping best-seller Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10. As a member of a four man SEAL team, Luttrell is sent into the mountains of Afghanistan and tasked with capturing or killing a known al Qaeda leader. Given the title, it is no spoiler to say that the mission doesn’t go as planned, to devastating results.
Do not expect to see a war movie that glorifies the might of American military, nor one that is particularly patriotic or political in nature. This is Afghanistan in the middle of war, with a clever and dangerous Taliban. It is an arena of complex rules, players, and tenuous relationships, which is portrayed with truth throughout the film. The people and the effects of combat are Berg’s subject of interest here, not the politics.
Opening with some actual footage of SEAL training, we’re immediately given the background information that these men and women are trained to handle traumatic and tortuous experiences. This information is necessary later when one wonders how these guys could keep going in such hellish circumstances.
Berg brings an up-close realism to the film’s presentation. Much like the opening of Saving Private Ryan, the viewer cannot escape the gruesome nature and physical brutality of battle. There is no holding back, as each injury recounted in the book is brought to life on screen with arduous accuracy. This is a refreshing (if incredibly difficult to view) truth to the gruesome nature and horror of war. The sights and sounds won’t keep you on the edge of your seat, but rather sinking into it, perhaps hoping for a break or some small physical comedy to make you feel better.
There are some unique editing tricks of changing to first person POV, which as a device works well alongside use of subtle slow-motion highlights for each sustained injury to fully immerse the viewer in the combat experience. However, overuse of first person POV becomes distracting as the eye adjust from the difference in visual quality.
The quality of performances by Wahlberg and his three team companions Tayler Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster, is excellent. They’ve given everything they have to the physical job of portraying SEALs, their boot camp training apparent in their movements and mannerisms. But their engaging performances also give honor to the doomed men they play, with compelling character arcs from joking brothers in arms, to shattered heroes. The haunting honesty of their last moments will stay with viewers long after the credits stop rolling.
Wahlberg, in particular, has given everything of himself to this role, which is strikingly apparent. In his 40’s now, Wahlberg can’t quite pull off the 20-something soldier next to his cast mates, seeming a bit too mature and out of place in scenes that establish the camaraderie of the SEAL team. He’s more suited to playing Eric Bana‘s role as mission field commander. However, pushing aside the nit-picking about his age, Wahlberg’s performance is commendable – gritty, determined, destroyed and vulnerable. He bears witness to this horrific tragedy and then places himself with endearing vulnerability in the hands of local villagers that come to his rescue.
Ali Suliman is excellent as village leader Mohammad Gulab, the true hero of this film, which left me wishing for more time on screen for him and his dialogue with Wahlberg. However, Berg has taken some license with history to speed along the pacing of the film and the end doesn’t play out the same as the real events in the book.
Lone Survivor, without getting too deep, engages in discussion about humanity within war. Issues such as decency, leniency, and a moment where they stop to debate the rules of engagement, bring forth the complexity of negotiating hostile territory. This is a look at the people inside a war, often scared and trying to survive, while attempting to protect those they care about. It is a brutal, psychological and physical action thriller.
Full release in North American theaters is scheduled for January 10, 2014.