Marcus Luttrell, a Navy Seal, and his team set out on a mission to capture or kill notorious al Qaeda leader Ahmad Shahd, in late June 2005. After running into mountain herders and capturing them, they were left with no choice but to follow their rules of engagement or be imprisoned. Now Marcus and his team are left to fight for their lives in one of the most valiant efforts of modern warfare.
When celebrated with the statement that the premise of a movie is ‘based on a true story’, or ‘based on true events’, one should conceivably view it with a peripheral sense of trepidation and acute skepticism. Too often now has there been a tactical marketing strategy to instantly gratify viewers with the knowledge that; with said statement; a movie of depth and quality will inevitably follow – as if it is an instant mark of quality. In a sincerely unbiased industriousness; the lexical terminology of the word ‘based’; can be – in its most quintessentially and parsimonious grounding – implemented in extremely loose parentheses at the most frequent of times. There are no legalities in preventing a large – and hugely subjective – variance, not dissimilar to an equilibrial system of linguistic scales, balanced between “extraction of ‘facts’” and “embellishments of anecdotal heresay”. Above all, this is presuming the source material on which the script is adapted from is fundamentally reliable (it was ‘Operation Red Wings’, not ‘Redwings’ as Marcus incorrectly described in his book). To investigate this philosophical dilemma in a more in-depth manner, would necessitate delving into the methodological issues that are problematic when it comes to the ‘production of knowledge’; indirectly leading to a debate on relativism and thus, opening a whole other can or worms. Suffice to say, that; for entertainments sake, one should be able avoid soaking up every minute detail – which would be the equivalent to succumbing to the guillability of conspiratorial-tinfoil-adorning-gasket-pots.
Despite these Hollywood-esque contentions, occasionally a director comes out of the woodwork with the best of intentions; someone who happens to come across ‘topically sacrosanct’ and sentimentally disputatious material that has been bathed in contention (discussions surrounding co-author Patrick Robinson’s embellishments); material that moves somebody in such a way as to prompt them to share the material in their preferred artistic domain; to channel and pay tribute to the source material which in turn, was created with the intention to pay tribute to Luttrel’s “associates”. And in this instance, ‘Peter Berg’ – who apparently read the book in one sitting during a closed-door ‘Hancock’ conference – felt motivated to share the actions and bravery of a few men risking their lives whilst fighting for their country. Berg’s good intentions have evidently been influential; as the film; the acting; the cinematography and the score have all been drawn together with a meticulous and honest conviction, which is graciously presented upon viewing the finished article.
Lone Survivor depicts the failed Operation Red Wings mission in 2005 in which 18 members of the US Armed Forces were killed in action. The film delivers a heavy handed patriotic look inside what happened during those fateful hours. From the outset, the film honours the men and women who serve(ed) the United States in the Navy SEALs via an overtly patriotic and melodramatic montage which is essentially unashamed bravado minus the jingoistic overstatements. What follows is an introduction to the four main protagonists who later find themselves in peril. The cast – for the most part – is more than adequate, with some raising the bar and particulars (Ben Foster – cold but caring) pulling off exceptional performances. The four protagonists are greatly portrayed with gusto, including Mark Wahlberg (Marcus), Taylor Kitsch (Mike), Emile Hirsch (Axe), and Ben Foster (Danny) performing well together despite the lack material they have to work with to try and develop their characters.
Unfortunately, this becomes one of the main issues with the movie. The actors have the acting chops and the potential to exude the necessary chemistry so the audience can buy into the characters, not only within the realms of the cinematic world, but in real life as well. Subsequently, if the audience are to have an emotionally vested interest in the fate of these men, there should be a more developmental strata in each of the characters introductions as the actors have more than enough caliber to go beyond standardized, clichéd militaristic rapport and banter that has been done many times before. Berg uses subtlety that could have worked if it was just ever so slightly above the median; not so much as to be in-your-face-clichéd, but; not so subtle as to lose the expositional traits of each character. It is a tough balance to meet – cautiously avoiding over zealous sentimentality with the individualistic and humanistic aspect of the everyday man, who is there to do a job. Ultimately, this creates a less emotional pay off in vicariously living through the horrors these men find themselves in. Peter Berg’s failure to establish the characters early on in the movie ends up creating a feeling of indifference and the latter half suffers from this.
When the ambush of the SEALs begins in full, the gradual degradation of the situation seems authentic, if not, slightly overdone for dramatic effect. What follows is an action-packed, non-stop brutal war battle with our vastly outnumbered protagonists; this is further fuelled by the rugged terrain (New Mexico) and foreign landscape that provides no favours. The action scenes are where ‘Berg’ really shines as a director, and combining the excellent direction with the cinematography and the rough terrain setting creates a juxtaposition of set-pieces that; in terms of quality – are up there with the best of them (Black-Hawk-Down, Saving Private Ryan et al.) and help in conveying the painful journey that the four protagonists find themselves taking.
‘Lone Survivor’ is, at its core, essentially a prototypically American war movie in the sense that the Americans are the good guys, and the Taliban are the expendable bad guys. However, there are no overt nods or critical undertones in regards to America’s foreign policy. Even within the insulated boundaries of ‘Operation Red Wing’, as a microcosm to the bigger political picture – to suggest that ‘Lone Survivor’ is a pro war movie, is down to subjectivity, as one will either see it as propaganda promoting heroism – or; heroism by proxy of four men finding themselves in a tactical situation which could have been avoided, and, or course – there are others who will be paying the price of admission; purely to be entertained. Thus, the movie never quite reaches the realms of a polarized political divide, nor is it a propogandised, glorified Navy SEALs recruitment advertisement. The interesting question about this type of war movie is whether or not it is really all about the stars that play the real-life characters and there is the slightly unsettling thought, that method acting in a war movie still hangs on the heavy side of the precipice with unintentional irony.
The script fails in its purpose to create an expose utilizing realistic dialogue to display the strong relationship these men had created. Fundamentally, Berg fails in this respect, to capture the essence of brotherhood that is indispensable and fundamentally needed for the audience to emotionally buy into the second act. However, the second act is an intense ride and it is masterfully shot and directed. Beyond the camera work and editing, much of the scenes work well because of the locations, the actors, and the hauntingly shoe-gazed sounds of the aptly named ‘Explosions in the Sky’ that contrast the fast paced visuals. All in all, Peter Berg has redeemed himself after last years disastrous ‘Battleship’, and when he gets it right; it’s great.
3.5 out of 5