LONE SURVIVOR

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Peter Berg

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch, Eric Bana.

Based on the bestselling memoir written by veteran SEAL Marcus Luttrell, Lone Survivor is the harrowing true story of Operation Red Wings, a failed top secret mission that took place in Afghanistan in 2005.

Luttrell (played here by Mark Wahlberg) led an elite squad of SEALs behind enemy lines to capture of kill a Taliban commander. But before the mission really begins, the four soldiers encounter a group of shepherds in the rugged forest near the village where their target is supposedly located. They are faced with a dilemma. Do they kill the innocent villagers and continue on with their mission? Do they tie them up and leave them to their fate in the wild? Or do they let them go and trust that they will not reveal their presence to the Taliban? The soldiers make a decision that is morally correct, but in doing so they seal their own fate.

They find themselves hunted by heavily armed Taliban soldiers. Outnumbered and outgunned, they make a run for the safety of the nearby hills where they hope to be able to make radio contact with their base and have a helicopter race to their rescue. Thus begins an intense battle for survival.

The battle scenes here are some of the most physically punishing, visceral and intense depicted on screen, up there with Black Hawk Down and the opening D-Day sequence of Saving Private Ryan. And the stunt performers, under the direction of veteran stunt co-ordinator Kevin Scott, certainly earned their pay here as they throw themselves down rocky escarpments, cliffs, and through trees and rough terrain with abandon. There was no CGI used in these physically arduous sequences, which adds to their bruising nature and realism.

Director Peter Berg (Battleship, The Kingdom, etc) has a fascination with military tactics and weaponry of combat, and he brings an authenticity to this gritty film. There is a veracity to the film that gives it an almost documentary like realism, and it has more in common with The Kingdom than Battleship. And Tobias Schliesser’s use of handheld cameras takes us into the thick of the action. Lone Survivor is an immersive experience that nails audiences to their seat for the duration of the almost hour long brutal firefight.

Unlike the more fanciful Battleship, here Berg captures the utter physical and mental hell of the battle zone. Such is the unrelenting suspense and realism that you emerge from the cinema almost bathed in sweat. Lone Survivor doesn’t dwell on the politics of the war nor does it glorify war, rather it focuses on acts of heroism and that strong bond of friendship and mateship that develops on the battlefield in the heat of combat.

Wahlberg, who also produced the film, has a rugged authority and a convincing physical presence as Luttrell. The rest of the squad consists of Axelson (played by the very busy Ben Foster, who has shown his versatility with diverse roles in evocative noir-like thriller Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and Kill Your Darlings); Dietz (Emile Hirsch, wasted with little to do); and Murphy (Taylor Kitsch, who previously worked with director Berg on Battleship). However, apart from the opening sequences that introduce us to the men and give us a brief glimpse into their backstories, there is little character development here, and their characters are largely one dimensional. When the fierce fire fight begins it becomes a little hard to distinguish between the four.

Eric Bana has a small but important role as their base commander. And many of the small roles during those scenes set in the base camp were played by real life military veterans, which further adds to the authentic atmosphere.

There are very few women in this testosterone-fuelled, masculine war story, but nonetheless Berg still manages to inject a touch of unexpected humanity and compassion into the material. But Berg cannot resist a bit of patriotic, gung-ho flag waving towards the end of the film. Over the end credits we get a montage of the real life Luttrell and his comrades, set to Peter Gabriel’s dirge-like cover of David Bowie’s hit Heroes.

★★★☆

 

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