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.
Nearly every American film in recent years that was even remotely related to the war in the Middle East has failed, from Stop/Loss to In the Valley of Elah to Lions For Lambs and countless other titles in between. But the death of Osama Bin Laden has renewed interest in telling stories about our country's controversial campaign overseas, and just like that a handful of topical projects have become high-priorities in Hollywood. Chief amongst them is Kathryn Bigelow's buzzworthy film about the Navy SEAL team that took the high-ranking terrorist out, but director Peter Berg also has one in development based on a book called Lone Survivor, and Universal Pictures is on board.
Deadline reports that the film, which is based on Marcus Luttrell's novel that tells the story of how he and his Navy SEAL team members fought to stay alive after being ambushed in Afghanistan in 2005 by Taliban forces during a covert mission in the Hindu Kush mountain region, is now a hot property for the studio, though it's been a long time coming. Universal had originally made a deal with Berg to make the movie over two years ago, but there was a catch: he'd have to helm a major tent pole first. That big-budget project was Battleship, which began shooting in late August 2010 for a May 18th 2012 release. Now that that film is moving steadily along through its production schedule (it's currently in post-production and should make a stop at Comic-Con in July), Berg is ready to lay the groundwork for Love Survivor. He's even bringing his Battleship lead Taylor Kitsch along for the ride; the rising star is his top choice to play Lutrell (and also just trained with SEAL's for another new film, Oliver Stone's Savages).
"Bin Laden's death has cleared the way for this," said Berg, "a movie that will be an unapologetically patriotic film that honors and pays homage to an incredible group of badass guys who do this." He went on to compare the picture to Black Hawk Down in tone, though Lone Survivor will center on a quartet of soldiers rather than a whole squad. The filmmaker is incredibly passionate about the story, so much so that he spent a month in Afghanistan with a SEAL team so that he could accurately dramatize their heroic efforts. That kind of enthusiasm usually leads to a well-made, authentic film, so I'm all for Lone Survivor, even if the narrative will seem somewhat similar to Ridley Scott's action-packed 2001 film.
I equate this rush to produce Middle East war movies to the flux of WWII films from the late '40s and '50s. After the USA emerged victorious from the bloody battles in Europe and Asia, there was a surge in production on these types of films because national morale was so high. Every American wanted to see their heroic marines blast fascists to high hell on the big screen once the, ahem, mission was accomplished. Maybe the reason that audiences haven't yet taken to films about the current conflict overseas is because there hasn't been anything to celebrate. Now that there is, it's possible that could see war movie renaissance in Tinsel Town.