Meticulous American director of several lush, visually striking films since the late 1970s who made a memorable feature debut with "The Black Stallion" (1979), an exquisitely crafted tale of the far-f...
Universal via Everett Collection
Lone Survivor isn't a film for the faint of heart. It's a film that beats you down and only lets you up for a few precious moments before the credits roll, but that emotional throttling is what helps make the film such a powerful experience.
Peter Berg's Lone Survivor tells the story of Operation Red Wings, primarily focusing on a group of four Navy SEALs who are sent to the mountains of Afganistan to capture or kill a member of the Taliban. The plan goes wrong, and the team has to fight for their lives to escape the enemy-infested area. The film does a marvelous job of ratcheting up the tension before collapsing into its main action sequence, one that is as thrilling as it is unsettling. The long sequence brings forth memories of the infamous D-Day opening of Saving Private Ryan, except this film's fire-fight stretches out the violence like a medieval torture device. The langourous scene is, at times, hard to sit through. Each moment slips by in coiled tension. It's undoubtedly uncomfortable, and the film makes a point to never make the violence fun or enticing. The action isn't consequence-free, and every bullet fired carries weight, making the scenes brutal and unrelenting because of it. The film takes on the aura of a horror movie that wants you to feel every second that ticks by, and director Berg makes sure that a pressing hopelessness starts to weigh on the viewer just as it does on the soldiers.
Mark Wahlberg is plenty capable as Marcus Lutrell, a member of the SEAL unit that is sent on the mission. The supporting cast plays its parts admirably by believably infusing a diverse set of personalities and values into the soldiers, while still keeping them in tune with the same military culture that governs much of their thoughts and actions. There's a great scene where a difficult decision has to be made, and the viewer gets to see the different directions to which some of the character's moral compasses are tuned. Sometimes the right thing can mean different things to different people when the risk of death is on the table. The real standout in the cast is Ben Foster, whose SO2 Matthew Alexson swirls with barely contained fury. He is darkly intense and has electric screen presence that really starts to manifest when the bullets star flying and things become dire.
Universal via Everett Collection
For all the good will that the film builds up in its first and second act, the final third of the film hits some snags as history demands that the story take itself to a different location, sacrificing some of the tension that it has built up. In the last 30 minutes of the film, there are some odd tonal choices that don't gel with the tension brimming in the first half. A comedic scene involving a language barrier stands out in particular.
The movie makes a point to steer clear of any political judgment, and it doesn't try to lay blame for the botched mission on any one head. And while the film never outwardly states and opinion on the conflicts that America found itself embroiled in during this time period, the searing brutality depicted in the movie highlight that no one should be subjected to the pain that these men were faced with. Made abundantly clear is the soldiers' willingness to drop everything and serve their country the best way they know how. Lone Survivor tries to honor the soldier, but not glorify war.
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Lone Survivor is at its best when it makes you feel the worst. It gives soldiers their due reverence by showcasing the true terror of the battlefield, and while the film does start to sag a bit in its third act, it's still more than worth the experience in order understand the consequences of war, and its toll on the people in the trenches.
Worked as second unit camera operator on "Star Wars"
Spent childhood at Lake Tahoe where his father was a boat builder
Directed "Never Cry Wolf" starring Charles Martin Smith as a government researcher, sent to research the "menace" of wolves in the north
Spent a year building a catamaran
Directed "Duna" a film about an orphaned cheetah that becomes the best friend and pet of a young boy living in South Africa
Directed Matthew Modine and Jennifer Grey in "Wind"
Directed "Fly Away Home" starring Anna Paquin as a young girl who attempts to lead a flock of orphaned Canada Geese south by air
Saw three films that revolutionized his notions about film: Teinosuke Kinugasa's "Gate of Hell" (1953-Japan), Stanley Kubrick's "Paths of Glory" (1957-US), and Carl Dreyer's "Ordet" (1955-Denmark)
Made numerous short narratives and documentaries, often using animals as his "stars"
Enrolled in UCLA's film school in the early 1960s; same class as Francis Ford Coppola
Moved to Marin County, California at age 15 (date approximate)
Designed cars for a while after high school
Directed the feature production of "Nutcracker: The Motion Picture"
Feature film directing debut, "The Black Stallion", produced by Coppola
Produced a documentary entitled "Harvest" for the US Information Agency; nominated for an Academy Award
Enlisted in US Army; worked as a film cameraman while stationed in the South
Directed "Rodeo", a portrait of champion bull rider Larry Mahan
Meticulous American director of several lush, visually striking films since the late 1970s who made a memorable feature debut with "The Black Stallion" (1979), an exquisitely crafted tale of the far-flung adventures of a boy and a horse. Executive produced by Ballard's UCLA film school chum Francis Ford Coppola, the film was hailed both for its extraordinary attention to visual and behavioristic detail and as a beautifully realized adaptation of Walter Farley's classic 1941 children's novel. Four years passed until Ballard's next film, "Never Cry Wolf" (1983), an unusual and haunting nature tale featuring Charles Martin Smith, in a rare starring role, as a biologist investigating whether wolves are responsible for the gradual disappearance of the caribou herds. Two years of demanding production in the wilds of the Yukon and Alaska paid off to create a poetic work that easily transcended the standard qualities of a Disney nature picture (which it was, after all). <p> Ballard's subsequent output has been disappointingly sparse. Six years elapsed before "Nutcracker: The Motion Picture" (1986), an ambitious film version of the Christmas 1983 Seattle production staged by Maurice Sendak and Kent Stowell. Ballard utilized Sendak's dreamy sets to bring out some of the psychosexual underpinnings of the ballet. Less successful was the sometimes frantic editing which some reviewers found too reminiscent of music videos. "Wind" (1992) was a ho-hum yacht racing yarn that boasted outstanding cinematography by John Toll. Ballard's affinity for the beauties and rigors of nature and weather were undiminished but the material and characters were unworthy.<p> Doubtlessly making "Wind" called upon elements of the filmmaker's childhood spent at Lake Tahoe where his father was a boat builder. Ballard himself spent a year after high school building a catamaran. He next enlisted in the Army where he served as a cameraman while stationed in the American South. During that period, Ballard saw three films that revolutionized his notions about film: Teinosuke Kinugasa's "Gate of Hell" (1953-Japan), Stanley Kubrick's "Paths of Glory" (1957-US), and Carl Dreyer's "Ordet" (1955-Denmark). Inspired, he enrolled in the UCLA film school in the early 1960s. There Ballard began making acclaimed short narratives and documentaries that usually starred animals. He was nominated for a Oscar as the producer of the documentary, "Harvest" (1967).
University of California at Los Angeles
"Much of his (Ballard's) justly praised short pix, such as "Pigs", "The Perils of Priscilla", shot from a cat's p.o.v., and "Rodeo", have dealt with animals, and his sensitivity to the beautiful steed's grace of movement, nervous reactions to humans and even breathing rhythms is just one of the factors that lifts the picture far above standard works in this genre."
"Ballard's camera eye and powers of sequence conceptualization are manifestly extraordianary."
--From review of "The Black Stallion" in "Variety", October 17, 1979.