Lone Survivor is the latest film from Peter Berg, who is most famous for directing the disappointing Battleship and the mediocre Hancock. However, he appears to have found his groove with Lone Survivor and managed to create an intense and thrilling depiction of a failed Navy SEAL mission. With a star-studded cast consisting of Mark Wahlberg, Emile Hirsch, Taylor Kitsch Ben Foster and Eric Bana (among others) Lone Survivor has the tools required to be a hit.
Okay, so the story goes a little like this: A team of four US Navy SEALs are sent to Afghanistan to carry out a reconnaissance mission to track and capture Taliban leader Ahmad Shah. The team consists of Team Leader Michael Murphy (Kitsch) who is joined by snipers Marcus Luttrell (Wahlberg) and Matthew “Axe” Axelson (Foster), while in charge of communications is Danny Dietz (Hirsch). They trek through the mountainous Hindu Kush region of Afghanistan, and the first and potentially most damaging problem starts to arise when their communications systems when they discover they don’t have enough signal to make a call. Upon arriving at the location at which they are to wait for Shah, they are discovered by three goat herders, two of which are teenage boys. Shortly after they decide to let the goat herders go rather than killing them, they are discovered by Taliban forces. A terrifying and violent fight ensues and due to being somewhat outnumbered, the Navy SEALs become horribly injured and find that their only option to escape the fighters is to jump off a cliff. Now, with serious injuries, the Taliban on their tail and communication systems failing, the four men must continue to run, trying to reach higher ground so they can make the call for help.
Mark Wahlberg always holds his own in pictures like this. He just has that look about him, so he was unsurprisingly pitch perfect as sniper Luttrell. Needless to say, his support were equally impressive, if slightly typecast (Kitsch mainly). They manage to encourage sympathy from the audience, despite the hardened façade Navy SEALs are required to project. When their lives are compromised, they reveal the humanity beneath their stereotype of macho killing machines.
The novel on which Lone Survivor was based was in fact written by Marcus Luttrell himself. As a result of Berg’s relationship with Luttrell through the production process, the film is allowed to maintain realism and historical accuracy throughout. His story of survival is nothing short of remarkable and makes for enthralling viewing (and reading).
Many have argued that the film acts as a vice in which to praise American heroism during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq towards the end of the 2000’s. However, I feel this is to be encouraged. The work of Navy SEALs is extremely challenging and undervalued in the mainstream, and what these men were up against was not exactly a win win situation. The men, knowing full well that their chances of survival are incredibly slim from the outset, still manage to maintain their fight for the survival of each other. There is a certain sense of brotherhood that arises, which is a familiar theme in war films, but when you know you are going to die if just one person wavers, the futility of their cause and the hopelessness they must have felt is able to be equally as felt by the audience.
The film’s final moments are certainly intense, as even without knowing anything about these men, you have become so involved in their lives you so desperately want them all to survive. Lone Survivor concludes in such a way that leaves you feeling elated and hopeful; a welcome change to the hostility and fearfulness felt up to this point, allowing your heart rate to ease to a much more manageable beat.
For Saturday night viewing, this film hits the nail on the head. The narrative isn’t particularly hard to follow, and it just hammers home the sad fact that if one thing goes wrong, the lives of the soldiers and the purpose of the mission are instantly put in jeopardy and the ultimate price is the loss of life. At just over two hours, you won’t be bored, you might need to take a small break to catch your breath, but all in all it’s an exceptional, real life account of modern warfare. One of the best of the modern war era. I’m not normally a war film kind of gal, but this was a very welcome exception.
Lone Survivor is now airing on HBO, HBO On Demand and on HBOGo.