- Movie Rating -

Lone Survivor (2013)

| December 23, 2013 | 0 Comments

You kind of know where “Lone Survivor” is headed once you hear the title.  You also work out the identity of the title survivor once you realize that Mark Wahlberg plays the Navy SEAL who eventually wrote the book on which the film is based.  With that pedigree, no one would blame you if you approached the movie with a measure of skepticism.  Yet, “Lone Survivor” is better than you might think.  It’s not perfect, but it is a perfectly mounted recreation of the tragic events of Operation Red Wings, a mission that took place in Afghanistan in June of 2005 and claimed the lives of 19 American soldiers.  What the movie lacks in personality, it makes up for in the scenes of cold reality of soldiers under fire.

The movie opens with real-life footage of navy recruits being put through their brutal Navy SEAL training, at times seemingly brought to the brink of death.  The training seems to be designed to prepare these men for any kind of condition.  The irony is that the rest of the film shows soldiers under conditions that, in reality, no one could have been prepare for.  We meet the men of SEAL Team 10, led by Marcus Luttrell (Wahlberg) being briefed on Operation Red Wings, under orders to capture or kill Taliban leader named Ahmad Shah.  The mission seemed simple enough.  Drop in, kill the bad guy and fly out.  Yet, something happened that put a kink in the plan, and soon the soldiers found themselves fighting for their lives.

Most of the movie deals with the firefight, and how a handful of soldiers found themselves not only under attack by Taliban soldiers but grossly outnumbered.  Trapped on a dangerous rocky mountain slope, they find that they often cannot see their attackers who are using the trees for cover.  What makes these scenes work is their orientation.  We know where the Americans are, but very often we don’t know the location of the enemy.  That’s writer-director Peter Berg’s technical achievement.  He allows us to know the placement of the characters to draw the suspense.  He doesn’t just hammer us with confusing quick-cuts to create the confusion, he allows us to map their location in our minds.  Berg also doesn’t pull back from the brutality of war.  Soldiers are hit, bullets pass through their bodies, bones crunch and we feel their pain.

The movie is short on character development, yet that doesn’t become a problem.  We meet the four principle players.  Besides Luttrell, we also meet Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Danny Deitz (Emile Hirsch) and Matt Axelson (Ben Foster).  They don’t have much development as characters, so Berg depends on our familiarity with these actors to draw our emotional interest, and it pays off.  We care about these guys, and the melancholy of the fact that most never came home makes the story all the more dramatic.

Up until now, Peter Berg couldn’t exactly be called a world-class director.  His list of credits are over-loaded with junk like “Very Bad Things”, “Battleship” and The Rock adventure “The Rundown”.  Here, he shows a sure-hand as a director.  His action scenes work because they’ve been thought out.  He takes a tragic true story and doesn’t disgrace it with a lot of phony camera tricks or needless subplots.  He knows the story he wants to tell and he tells it very well.  This is a lean, spare film that gives us just enough information to care about what is happening.  It is far from perfect but what it does, it does very well.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2013) View IMDB Filed in: Action, War