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.
Despite boasting a couple of headliners who, at one point, might have sported enough gravitas as to pull the masses in to see any feature film, 2 Guns doesn't have a whole lot of draw. The well-worn buddy cop trope gets an interesting makeover with both parties playing undercover agents for independent organizations (Denzel Washington works for the DEA, while Mark Wahlberg is a Naval officer) unaware of the other's affiliation. Throughout, both parties manage performances that invite laughter, with Wahlberg's hybrid of badass and nebbish earning particular favor. But for some reason, the film just can't seem to muster up a full dish of appeal.
Maybe it's because 2 Guns seems to be, and proves to be, a film that sets the bulk of its attention on forwarding the criminal plotline. In this area, 2 Guns offers little in the new. Yes, the dramatic irony that both Washington and Wahlberg are officers of the law, and each under the impression that the other is a bona fide crook, is a twist with some flavor. But too heavily stocked with your standard cop movie tropes — inhabited by drug cartel baddie Edward James Olmos and sociopathic CIA man Bill Paxton — the film crumbles under its decision to take its story too seriously.
When it has fun, though, it has a good deal of it.
The high points of the film are not when Washington and Wahlberg are facing off with their laundry list of enemies — criminals, fellow lawmen, former allies, you name it... nobody likes these guys — but when the mismatched pair tustle verbally with one another.
Washington's Bobby Trench is a smooth, serious, acerbic would-be loner; Wahlberg's blathering Michael Stigman operates at peak energy and volume, wearing his lust for attention and friendship on his sleeve as he works tirelessly to win over his target/partner. Their chemistry, while nothing unprecedented in the buddy cop genre, is endearing, helping to pass the hour-and-a-half occupied by 2 Guns with just enough chuckles.
So if you're already there, having wandered accidentally into the wrong theater or affixed against your will to a diehard Denzel fan's idea of a perfect night out, buck up — the comedic scenes will get you through it. But if you're on the fence, they're not quite worth heading out to the theater for.
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February 14, 2011 12:33pm EST
Brad Anderson’s new film The Vanishing on 7th St. asks you to fear the haunting abyss that is the darkness but the more terrifying void is its story. Or lack thereof. Seeing as how it’s billed as a mystery horror-thriller and this from the director of neo-noir classics like The Machinist and Transsiberian I expected at least a few minor scares; I should’ve known they’d come only from Hayden Christensen’s performance.
The film is set in Detroit and follows a handful of survivors (including John Leguizamo Thandie Newton Jacob Latimore and Christensen) of an inexplicable power outage that seems to have consumed the entire city’s population. They must put the pieces of this puzzling event together to understand what’s happening and figure out how they can stay alive with looming shadows closing in on them.
With a less competent director at the helm this movie would’ve been a total disaster. The script is terrible focusing on one-dimensional characters their back-stories and a bunch of crackpot theories that hint at explanations but never follow through (in its defense the film is meant to be inconclusive but that doesn’t make up for bad dialogue plot holes etc.) Luckily Anderson is in his element with ambiguous narratives and creates a startling atmosphere that is interesting to examine. It has an unpolished gritty texture that brings to mind similar low-budget horror flicks but is enhanced by startling sound effects and an unnerving score from relative newcomer Lucas Vidal. Still all style and no substance only goes so far and The Vanishing on 7th St. never hits the throttle.
Essentially a creature feature without the creature the film is best looked at as an apocalyptic survival tale. The problem is that there’s nothing adventurous or enthralling about it. The characters’ encounters with the shadows are repetitive and the effect gets old quickly. Furthermore half of the cast (I’ll let you guess who) is incapable of conveying fear and if they aren’t afraid then how are you the audience supposed to be? I tried analyzing the film from an existential standpoint as a few of the characters question the reason for this human extermination but I couldn’t find any genuine moments of meditation.
Without question the star player here is Anderson who proves that he can do his job even when other members of the creative team don’t. The fact that he was able to develop such a striking tone from a sub-par screenplay is a testament of his ability as a storyteller.
Bruce Willis is set to star in the upcoming drama Ten, directed by Patrick Alessandrin (District 13: The Ultimatum) and written by Skip Woods (The A-Team).
QED International will co-finance with Norton Herrick and produce with Joe Roth (Alice in Wonderland), Palek Patel, Woods, Bill Block, and Paul Hanson. The project starts shooting in December and will cost $35 million.
Currently, there aren't any details on the script, but Willis has experience with Roth, who was responsible for placing him in major hits The Sixth Sense and Armageddon.
Without much script detail, it's hard to tell whether or not this is a good role for Willis to take. If it is a character driven drama, hopefully he can handle it. Outside of The Sixth Sense, the actor hasn't done too many successful dramatic roles that don't involve a shotgun or pistol. Regardless, Willis has enjoyed a quiet but successful 2010 so far with Cop Out and his small role in The Expendables. With Red gaining a bunch of pre-release buzz, he should round out the year nicely.