The opening sequence of Lone Survivor, utilizing real and raw footage of the agony and determination it takes to become a Navy SEAL, is great stuff. Had the rest of the film been built with this focus and care, Lone Survivor could have been really special. Instead it’s a pretty by-the-numbers war flick that does itself a disservice with its spoiler-ridden title. Instead of building tension and knowing that anyone is fair game, we know that only one of these men will survive and it’s just a matter of when and how the other three will perish.
Based upon the book of the same name co-authored by “lone survivor” Marcus Luttrell, the film concerns the botched 2005 mission to kill Taliban leader Ahmad Shahd, called “Operation Red Wings,” where Luttrell (Wahlberg) and three other members of SEAL Team 10 (Kitsch, Foster, and Hirsch) found themselves ambushed from all directions by Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. The team had made the crucial decision to release a group of goat herders that had discovered them hiding behind trees hours earlier for fear of the repercussions of killing innocent men and children. Having little to no radio contact with home base due to the rough terrain, the team must improvise ways to stay alive.
After some brief glimpses into each man’s life, writer/director Peter Berg quickly shifts the focus to the prolonged, brutal hour of fighting that is the film’s centerpiece. While competently directed and suitably harrowing, it’s largely suspense-free as we already know the outcome. Instead we’re stuck watching the slow deaths of three men as it becomes more and more apparent that they’re outnumbered and don’t have the upper hand in their knowledge of the terrain. Additionally, as intense as the core story is, the film seems played up in many areas. How many gun shot wounds can a soldier take, especially when the Taliban fighters go down with one shot? The ending, while touching in its own right, seems about as embellished as the cars racing down the tarmac after the plane in Argo. It would seem impossible for Luttrell to know for certain what happened to the others when they split up halfway through the battle.
The film’s extended closing-credits sequence is fantastic, showing pictures and videos of the real-life soldiers who perished during this mission. It’s a fitting tribute in a film that is otherwise far more concerned with blood-letting and action cliches. If you like your war movies down, dirty, violent, and with as little explanation as possible, have at it. For me, the opening and closing five minutes are far more interesting than the other 111.
Studio: Universal Pictures
Length: 121 Minutes
Rating: R for strong bloody war violence and pervasive language.
Theatrical Release: December 25, 2013 (Limited) / January 10, 2014 (Wide)
Directed by: Peter Berg
Written by: Peter Berg. Based upon the book of the same name by Marcus Luttrell & Patrick Robinson.
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch, Eric Bana