Dr. Donna Copeland’s
MARK WAHLBERG BEN FOSTER TAYLOR KITSCH EMILE HIRSCH ERIC BANA
The title, the fact we see Wahlberg’s character on a stretcher by himself in the opening and the flash back to three days earlier provide director Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights, Battleship) with a challenge in making the film suspenseful since we already know how it ends. A film is much more than just its ending and Lone Survivor takes us into one of the most dangerous and intense battle sequences of the year. Based on the heroic true story, this military combat picture doesn’t offer us anything truly unique in the way of cinematic storytelling, but it’s still a patriotic memorial for those who risk their lives daily.
Four seals led by Mike Murphy (Kitsch) are dropped into hostile Taliban territory where their mission is to capture and kill the leader of a particularly gruesome group. Expert marksmen and killing machines Dietz (Hirsch), Axe (Foster) and Luttrell (Wahlberg) are compromised by goats and their owners. Luttrell insist they follow the rules of engagement, speaking of honor over tactics. As the men release their prisoners and retreat up the slate rock mountains of Afghanistan, they are ambushed and outnumbered. We see each man give everything he has to protect his brother.
Berg also penned the screenplay that gets off to a very jumbled start with so much military lingo and dialogue in the planning phase of the mission. The opening credits also chronicle actual footage of training. The story doesn’t really begin until the men are on the ground, suited up with guns in hand. The jokes and thin character development from a few moments ago is nearly forgotten as the gun fire begins and takes us through the majority of the film. Lone Survivor is the detailing of one excruciatingly long battle that can have no happy ending.
Each man brings a different strength and opinion to their situation, but it’s ultimately Wahlberg who will lead us through the remainder of the story. He pushes the character through the script that is never set up for him to do any real acting. The continual falling and rolling down the steep and rugged rocky terrain is brutal to watch as bones are broken, faces smashed and these soldiers take multiple gun wounds as the blood splatters toward the screen. The disorganization of the military is sure to raise questions (our tax dollars at work for horrible coms?), but that isn’t what this story is about. Everything leads back to that decision that is made to release the captured, innocent Taliban teenagers and old man, and the unlikely honor Luttrell finds in a small village.
Final Thought – Exists more as a gripping thriller, than a well rounded film, mistakenly playing the awards circuit.
By: Dustin Chase
Lone Survivor graphically and unrelentingly portrays a U.S. Navy Seal operation that goes terribly wrong when radio communication fails and goatherders unwittingly stumble onto the scene high in the mountains of Afghanistan. There is a heated discussion about what to do with them, and the decision is made to let them go according to terms of engagement, with the consequence that the herders run to the Taliban and inform them as to the Seals’ whereabouts. The beginning of the film sets the viewer up for the ensuing battle, showing how Seals are trained to push the limits of their tolerance, and use the brain to press the body onward despite injuries and fatigue.
The battle continues far beyond what is normally seen in action films, but this is based on the actual survivor’s memoir, and the writer/director Peter Berg is intent on showing us how persistently heroic these men are in their unstinting devotion to the mission. He adapted the screenplay from former Navy Seal Marcus Luttrell’s account of his experience as the lone survivor of Operation Red Wings in 2005, for which he was awarded the Navy Cross. The mission was to neutralize a high level Taliban leader, and four Seals were dispatched to carry it out.
In the film, Mark Wahlberg is cast as Marcus Luttrell, with Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, and Ben Foster as the other three Seals. Their commanding officer is played by Eric Bana. All deliver fine performances, and are convincing as tough, fearless warriors, although I wished the film had fleshed out the characters more. It is not until the very end that we get a real glimpse of Luttrell himself.
Scenes where they are in the heat of the gun battle, sometimes tumbling ferociously down steep mountains over huge boulders is heart-stopping. And if that is not bad enough, the villagers who rescue Marcus at the end are attacked by the Taliban, and the battle begins all over again, with Marcus being thrown around and stomped on by a vengeful invader.
Cinematography by Tobias Schliessler is artistic and articulate in showing in detail what is going by in fast action sequences.
The film is truthful in showing the sheer brutality of war, which makes it very hard to sit through at times, especially knowing ahead of time that only one will survive. And it’s even more unbelievable that Luttrell did survive, given multiple fractures including his back, and gunshot and shrapnel wounds.