Friday, January 10, 2014

Lone Survivor (2013)

I realized before watching Lone Survivor is that the title itself is a spoiler.  Even without being familiar with the real events this was based on or reading Marcus Luttrell's book about his experience, all you have to do is look at the title to know how it's going to turn out.  It kind of a downer when the title saps some of the suspense of a film.  Imagine if The Sixth Sense had been alternatively titled He's a Ghost?

Lone Survivor is the true story of Operation Red Wings in Afghanistan.  Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg) is part of a four-man Navy Seal team, the remainder played by Ben Foster, Taylor Kitsch and Emile Hirsch, on a mission to capture a Taliban leader.  While staking out the small village where he's hiding, a trio of goat herders, including two boys, happens upon them.  They have to make a difficult choice: let them go and hope they can get to safety before the Taliban finds them, or kill them and complete their mission.  They decide to uphold the rules of engagement and take their chances.  For the record, I voted for killing them, but I'm a murderous, cyborg psychopath.

Of course the Taliban catches up to them, and from there it becomes fight for survival.  A punishing, white-knuckle fight for survival.

Lone Survivor is just brutal at times.  This is not a glamorous film about war.  The amount of bodily abuse these guys take is superhuman.  It helps that the film begins with a montage of SEAL training.  When you see how grueling it is, it's easier to understand how these soldiers can keep going while taking so much punishment.  It's what they were trained for.

Their fight is unrelenting, and it's a little heartbreaking knowing in advance how it's going to turn out. This kind of leads into my only real issue with Lone Survivor.  We don't get to know the individuals very well. Writer/director Peter Berg decided to focus more on the action and overall heroism than any type of character moments. There are a few small details here and there, but we know almost nothing about them otherwise.  In fact, I struggled to recall anyone's name by the end.  We care because they are our soldiers and we want to see them survive, but not because of any emotional investment we have with them.  As the film is a tribute to these soldiers, I would have liked to know more about them personally.

Despite not getting to know the team, there is a clear sense of brotherhood and how much they care about each other.  Team is made up of a very strong cast that makes it a little easier to connect with them.  While Wahlberg is the star, I don't want to single anyone out as it kind of takes away from the sacrifice they collectively made.  It didn't take too long before I stopped seeing them as Marky Mark, Warren Worthington, the kid from The Girl Next Door and Tim Riggins, and just saw them as soldiers.  And of course no military-themed Peter Berg film would be complete without a Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) sighting.

The overall intensity of the action makes it easy to overlook these flaws.  Once the firefight begins, you'll be on the edge of your seat until the conclusion.  With the way the action was shot, there are many moments where you feel immersed in it.  I'm kicking myself for not seeing this in RPX as the sound was fantastic.  There are rattling explosions that made me jump in my seat a few times.  Nothing beats the throaty, metallic sound of the sniper rifle either.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe it was an MK 12 (had to look it up).  A better sound system in the theatre would have really made this sing.

Sure, you might come out of it a little, "Rah, rah, USA," but what's wrong with that?  I'm sure that's a little bit of what Peter Berg was going for, but it's not over the top.  I didn't watch Lone Survivor and feel like it was a recruitment film or shoving politics in your face.  It's pretty neutral as far as that goes, and is more about the mission and the the sacrifice of the soldiers.

While Lone Survivor is a brutal war movie, it's also a powerful tribute to the courage and resilience of these soldiers.  If this wasn't based on a true story, it would be easier to watch this as simply a very good action film, but knowing the sacrifice behind it adds a solemn feeling.  Definitely worth a watch though and one of the more realistic films about war I've seen in a while.

4 (out of 5) Death Stars


  1. Good review, Erik. You do make a good point concerning the lack of character development, and when they were showing all of the real people at the end, I actually struggled to remember who was who in the film, which is a bit bothersome. But even so, still a pretty intense movie nonetheless.

    1. I had exactly the same experience during the end credits. I kept saying, "Wait, which guy was that in the movie?" I had no clue outside of Wahlberg's character, and even then I had to do a little math to figure that one out. :)

      Still though, intense movie and enjoyed it otherwise.