Peter Berg’s last film Battleship was not the critical or commercial success that Universal hoped it would be. Still Universal still believes in the director enough that they gave him the green-light on a $40 million personal project that Berg had been thinking about since he made Hancock in 2008. This time round he has reteamed with Battleship star Taylor Kitsch and recruited two-time Academy Award nominee Mark Wahlberg to tell a tale of survival and bravado. Can he recapture magic of his Friday Night Lights and The Kingdom or did Battleship sink him?”
Lone Survivor is based on the real-life events of the failed United States Navy SEALs Operation Red Wings. This operation was an attempt by US forces in Afghanistan to track Taliban leader Ahmad Shahd. The film follows the four man team who were sent as forward advance to get eyes on Shah and confirm back to military command his whereabouts. When this mission is compromised and Taliban forces are alerted to the presence of the 4 men it quickly turns into a story of survival as the 4 fight against hostile terrain nd hostile forces as they attempt to re-establish contact with base command.
Straight from the off you know exactly where you are with Lone Survivor as the film opens with a montage of training videos that show you exactly what kind of punishment you need to endure to become a Navy SEAL. If you find this tough to watch then heaven help you later on as the film becomes one of the most gritty and literally hard-hitting depictions of life on the front-lines that cinema has seen. The title and the first ten minutes sap the film of most of the tension as it is quickly apparent which of the main actors the titular Lone Survivor is, but to its credit being armed with this information does not in any way lessen the impact of the violence that is to come. What director Peter Berg has crafted here is action of an intensity that it can stand with the first 10 minutes of Saving Private Ryan in the “oh God did I really just see that” pantheon of war films. It is brutal, brutal stuff. What Berg has also managed to do is create one of the most jingoistic films imaginable. Much of the film plays like a military recruitment video, showing the bravery of our “heroes” the US Navy SEALs versus the utterly appalling nature of the “enemy” the Taliban. The Taliban are shown as willing to sacrifice multiple men and their own people for their cause, whereas the soldiers are an army of brothers willing to sacrifice themselves and each other in order to do the right thing. While this is “based on a true story” it is difficult to believe that things are that black-and-white. That criticism aside the action is very well shot, the quality of the acting does make you feel and root for the Americans, and the pacing which has 40 minutes of lead-time into 40 minutes of action works really well. The sound mixing and editing on this film have been Oscar nominated, and it is easy to see why as the aural is just as striking as the visual when the action really kicks off. Moments of this will have you ducking in your seats and recoiling with fear and repulsion.
Such was Berg, Wahlberg, and Kitsch’s belief in what they were making that all 3 took reduced pay in order to make the film. Wahlberg also helped produce the film and it is he whom you see on all the advertising. His portrayal of Marcus Luttrell is top-drawer. He has an easy kinship with Kitsch, Hirsch, and Foster that makes his willingness fight for his comrades very natural. He also has the physicality to make the intense pain that his character endures believable, which is no mean feat. Kitsch is good as the stoic and tough Lieutenant Mike Murphy, leader of the group. He does get by far the most implausible scene of the film but carries it off with conviction. Hirsch is a little lost as the communication officer Danny Dietz. His character is the least fleshed out of the group and feels a little inconsequential. Ben Foster, on the other hand, as Matt ‘Axe’ Axelson wins the physicality stakes. Bearded and buff he is almost unrecognisable, and carries some of the most emotional scenes with ease. You almost feel as if you could storm the gates of hell if this guy was with you! Back at base Eric Bana is fine in a nothing role, while The Hunger Games’ Alexander Ludwig gets to show off some fine dance moves, but not a lot else.
Overall, if you can look past the “America is great” sensibility, you will be rewarded with a well-paced, well-acted, brutally intense tale of brotherhood. War is hell, but if you have to go you’d like these guys with you.