When it comes to war movies, it feels like Hollywood never wants to make a film that promotes anything nice about our current struggle in the Middle East. It’s just so much easier to have Hitler be the bad guy for the millionth time. While that’s understandable (he kinda has it coming), we shouldn’t forget about the military heroes born after WWII and Vietnam.
“Lone Survivor” does what only few movies about the War on Terror are capable of: show the horror of war without making the association, implicitly or explicitly, that American soldiers are wrong for being there and/or are bad people.
The film is based on the account of Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell concerning the failed 2005 mission of Operation Red Wings. Tasked with the job to track down a known Taliban leader, a four-man team is compromised when an enemy force much larger than their own interrupts their plan. Stuck in rugged terrain without backup or communications, the men must fight their way out.
Since the film mainly covers the days that Operation Red Wings took place in, there isn’t a lot of time given for character development. One of the best decisions in the film was to play real footage of SEAL training over the opening credits. Much more intense than your average Army TV ad, the video and pictures help the viewer to understand both the price that these men pay to be what they are and the honor that comes with that. Although it doesn’t involve the actors portraying the four main characters, it provides backstory in a roundabout way.
Director Peter Berg makes a perfect recovery here after the travesty known as “Battleship” hit screens in 2012. Though that was also a military movie featuring Taylor Kitsch, it’s safe to say “Lone Survivor” is more accurate and also benefits from not being as bad as this. As a passion project for both Berg and Mark Wahlberg (who plays Luttrell), the film does very well in respecting its subject matter while still remembering to entertain audiences.
The four main actors are very convincing in their roles as Navy SEALs, even Kitsch as Lt. Murphy, who has been one of my least favorite actors with consistent work the last few years. As he usually does, Ben Foster steals pretty much every scene he’s in as Matthew Axelson. From the film’s perspective, he’s the toughest of the group and Foster gets the best material of the four to work with. Like Kitsch, Emile Hirsch got off of my naughty list with an impressive performance as Danny Dietz, the SEAL team’s communications officer. He has said that he passed on multiple roles while training for months/years for this role, so if you were missing him, now you know why.
As in any war film, “Lone Survivor” has some great action sequences. Unlike most action films, however, these scenes don’t feel like a glorification of war. Each RPG blast or bone-crunching fall reminds those of us in our comfy chairs that war is not all fun and games. The closest viewing experience I can equate with the fighting scenes in “Lone Survivor” would be “The Passion of the Christ”. Between 45 minutes of bullets figuratively whizzing past my ear and the memorial at the end of the film, it was a little difficult to get up and leave the theater.
As with any film based on real events, there have been challenges made to the film’s historical accuracy. One small fight scene near the end of the film is said to have not taken place and the number of enemy combatants varies in reports from 20 to over 50. Honestly, who cares? It’s not like “Lee Daniel’s The Butler” where half the characters or storylines are made up.
It’s also worth mentioning that the film portrays the people of Afghanistan as a diverse collective. They are not the simple equation of Middle Eastern = terrorist. Anyone who complains that that isn’t driven home enough either wasn’t watching the film or has forgotten that this film is about Navy SEALs, not the pleasantries of Afghanistan.
“Lone Survivor” is a moving tribute to Navy SEALs and those who serve in any military capacity overseas. While delivering a quality film, it also says a lot about the nature of war and the many stories that can come from such a terrible place.