Lone Survivor, 2013.
Directed by Peter Berg.
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster, Yousuf Azami, Ali Suliman, Eric Bana and Alexander Ludwig.
Marcus Luttrell and his team set out on a mission to capture or kill notorious al Qaeda leader Ahmad Shahd, in late June 2005. Marcus and his team are left to fight for their lives in one of the most valiant efforts of modern warfare.
If ever a film needed the ‘based on a true story’ title card, then Peter Berg’s Lone Survivor is that film. Some of the things the Navy SEALs go through in this film would be impossible for us to comprehend, but we know it’s based on reality which gives some of the sequences even more of a punch. It also features the best depiction of combat I’ve seen since Black Hawk Down over a decade ago, but in the hands of a different director it could have been just as strong from start to finish.
There’s around 50 minutes in Lone Survivor which are outstanding and I’d argue this section is amongst the best pure entertainment I saw in 2013. We have four US Navy SEALs behind enemy lines on a mission to capture or kill a leading Taliban member; a group of shepherds arrive and everything changes. The questions the film asks on the rights and wrongs in warfare only add to what soon becomes a very tense scene, and when a relentless gun battle breaks out where the four SEALs are outnumbered several times over, the film goes to the next level.
As simple as that sounds, what unfolds is really quite sensational and expertly well staged, for the most part. The sound effects editing of breaking bones, bullet hits, falling rocks, and gunfire is at the highest level of proficiency and adds the dimension the scene needs to make it all believable because, as the film takes the time to tell us, this was a real mission and a real battle, and these were real men who fought for their country, asking no questions of the cause. If we take away nothing else from Lone Survivor it’s that war is hell. We know this already, but the movie reminds us in a startling way.
I stated before that the film could have been far greater with a better director. For all the amazing work he put into the middle section of the film, Berg sometimes loses touch with what, I think, he is trying to show us. The film opens with a recruitment video for the Navy SEALs to give the audience an idea of what it takes to become an elite soldier and in a clumsy way Berg is showing us his unapologetic admiration for these men. Strange then, that over the next twenty minutes the film fails to rise above broad strokes as far as character development is concerned with dialogue so formulaic one could be forgiven in thinking the film will be just another action movie with one dimensional characters. In a film which begins so passionately about the services soldiers give their country, surely these men deserve a better introduction.
Another major weakness Berg shows as a director lies in his inability to fully take his film out of ‘action movie mode’. Damning evidence of this comes when one soldier, who separates himself from the others in a last ditch attempt to make radio contact with their base, is killed; Berg portrays his death with all the nuance of a video game; slow motion, bullets ripping through the body, and a nice glossy look to it all. It took me out of the moment completely and was, frankly, an insult to both audience and SEAL. Are these men being honoured and their services remembered or are they there for audience gratification? Moreover, the inclusion of the real SEALs’ photos accompanied by a terrible cover of Davie Bowie’s Heroes feels like it is in the wrong film and shows, to me, Berg is not quite capable of making us truly feel for the men in his film without falling back on such obvious tactics.
Despite the shortcomings of the director, whose last two films let’s not forget were the awful Battleship and Hancock, it would unfair to say Lone Survivor doesn’t deliver for the most part and when it does it does it extremely well. It’s so good at times that I could even tolerate Taylor Kitsch and Emile Hirsh. High praise, indeed.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Rohan Morbey – follow me on Twitter.