REVIEW: Lone Survivor (2013)

January 10, 2014 § Leave a comment

The REAL Navy SEALS of Phase 1 of Operation Red Wings

The REAL Navy SEALS of Phase 1 of Operation Red Wings

(9/10) Marcus Lutrell, on the far right with the tattoo peeking out from his sleeve, was the titular Lone Survivor of a mission gone awry, to capture and kill a local Taliban leader named Sawtalo Sar, who was responsible for over a hundred U.S. soldier deaths during the conflict in Afghanistan.

Lutrell wrote a book about his experience, titled Lone Survivor. The movie was adapted for the big screen by writer/director Peter Berg, a director known for bombastic action movies of questionable artistic merit or even watchability. He was at the helm for the mediocre military thriller ‘The Kingdom’ and the disastrous board game adaptation (yes, board game) ‘Battleship’, which turned out to be a weak clone of the already flimsy ‘Transformers’ films.

Berg reminds us from ‘Lone Survivor’ why he’s a director worth taking endless chances on. Here he gets back to the guts and glory machismo sensitivity he displayed at the helm of another real life non-fiction book to screen adaptation ‘Friday Night Lights’. While less docudrama this time around, Lone Survivor is no less soul piercing in its ability to make senseless violence feel more heartfelt and tear-inducing than Nicholas Sparks on his best day.

Hollywood version of that same group of SEALS, with Mark Wahlberg portraying Luttrell

Hollywood version of that same group of SEALS, with Mark Wahlberg portraying Luttrell

With stoic performances from principal cast members Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster, all sporting rather epic beards, this will be the current decade’s definitive war film. After a quickie pre-amble showing all the men on base goofing around, being brotherly and getting debriefed about their mission, the movie wastes no time getting down to brass tacks, showing how Luttrell and his team mates’ scouting mission is compromised by a group of Taliban-friendly goat herders made up of an old man and two young pre-teens. The team gets a strong sense they are Taliban-friendly, but they are unarmed and thus the rules of war legally dictate nothing can be done to them. They must be released, even though the SEALS know it will prove costly, as over two hundred Taliban fighters are languishing in a village at the bottom of a small mountain region and would surely descend upon their position swiftly and with deadly intentions. After working out the pros, cons, legal and illegal choices, the men are ordered by their first in command Lieutenant Michael Murphy (an impressively unassuming and convincing Taylor Kitsch- who woulda thunk it?) to release the men.

Thus begins a hellish day-long fire fight between four crack shots and hundreds upon hundreds of guys spraying Kalashnikov rounds in their general direction, along with rocket launcher rounds and mortars. As the SEALS get chewed up by a wayward accurate enemy round here and a powerful rocket blast there, they tumble down the rocky mountainside running short on ammo and spare energy due to their humanly impossible to overcome injuries, from direct hits to their abdomens, arms, legs, feet and buttocks to horrific gashes on their faces and probable bone fracture from impacts on rocks and against tree trunks. It’s a brutal sight to see and for a while it seems endless, which is a blessing in disguise, for at least during this section of unrelenting carnage, the SEALS are still alive.

BLOODY Lone Survivor

We see them expertly take out Taliban fighter after Taliban as if their enemy were of the automated video game mind, programmed to aim poorly and die easily. Sadly, this was very real and they were eventually overwhelmed until all but Luttrell perished slowly, violently and knowingly. Their deaths are re-enacted with intimate detail and, for the most part, limited fanfare. However, when push comes to shove, as a film ‘Lone Survivor’ is very much in the mindset of jingoistic, Gung-ho rah-rah Go America features of yesteryear. The kind of movie John Wayne wishes he could have made. Still, the movie is about soldiers in battle worrying more about the man next to him than his own self-preservation. It’s about the clichéd but all too real essence of brotherhood: That bravery means a willingness to sacrifice yourself in the worst conditions, so that your brethren can take one more breath than you, increase their chances however incrementally to survive and go home to their wives, their children, their domestic business dealings- the American way of life that our armed forces die to preserve.

I couldn’t help but shed tears for the Hollywood produced carnage, knowing actors were being paid exponential fees to play soldier compared to the middle-class men and women of our armed forces. They sucked me in, chewed me up and spit me out a true believer in the power of the visual medium for conveying experiences that only the bravest of us are willing to or capable of enduring in all its messiness.

Heart strings taught, streams down my cheeks: Oorah. Get some. Semper Fi. To the last bullet. Thank you to Marcus Luttrell, Lieutenant Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch), Matt ‘Axe’ Axelson (Ben Foster), and the dozens of other U.S. soldier who perished in those Afghan Hills during Operation Red Wing.

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