Lone Survivor is a stupendous movie. Remarkably shot, very well acted, and the story does a lot.
The people saying it’s a pro-war, bloodthirsty, pro-American empire, movie didn’t watch the same movie I watched. It’s pro-soldier, pro-sacrifice, pro-comradeship, pro-military, and as anti-war as a movie can get.
I wept as I left the theater.
Here’s a trailer:
Released January 10, 2014
Written by Peter Berg. Based on the book by Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson.
Directed by Peter Berg
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch, Eric Bana, Alexander Ludwig, Yousuf Azami, and Ali Suliman.
* * * * *
Mike Murphy (Kitsch) and his team of Navy Seals are sent on operation Red Wings. This mission will take the Seals to a remote region of Afghanistan, where they are to find and either capture or kill Shah (Azami). The Seals are a tight group and an opening montage shows how Seals are trained– spoiler: it’s completely insane.
Marcus Luttrell (Wahlberg) is one of the four Seals sent on the mission. The other two are Danny Dietz (Hirsch) and Matt ‘Axe’ Axelson (Foster).
Their commander is Erik Kristensen (Bana), which is, interestingly, yet another role that Eric Bana is playing where his character’s name is similar or the same as his. In Hanna, his character is Eric. In The Incredible Hulk, his name is Bruce Banner.
Anyway, back on task.
A new addition to the Seal team is eager to go on the mission, but Shane Patten (Ludwig) is left behind in order to help coordinate communications. He will likely go on the next mission.
So these four hike to a mountain above the village where Shah has been spotted. They get eyes on him and settle in for the day, waiting for night to fall before they go in and get him. They are surprised to see that Shah has a veritable army with him, as opposed to the ten guys they were expecting.
Then some goats show up, followed by some goat-herders. The four Seals capture the men, but are faced with a dilemma, let the prisoners go or kill them so the operation isn’t compromised– along with the Seals safety. The Seals know for a fact that these men will go and tell Shah immediately about the American soldiers in the mountains.
The Murphy, the boss of this team, makes the decision: let the villagers go and hightail it out of there, trying to outrun Shah’s army.
But Shah’s army not only catches up to them; they get ahead of the Seals. Now we have an extended, visceral, extraordinary gunfight. Two-hundred or so Taliban soldiers against four Navy Seals.
And the Seals are incredible. With almost no shots wasted, the Seals start methodically taking out the Taliban soldiers. But the Seals are flanked and they have to get out of there. Each one takes hits: to the leg, shoulder, abdomen. They keep going.
And they keep going.
And not all of them make it, but they keep going until biology takes over their incredible will and training and shuts them down.
Luttrell is the last one and he winds up needing the help of locals and a rescue team to get out alive.
Lone Survivor doesn’t go wrong. It starts slowly enough that we can come to know and appreciate these soldiers. The movie establishes authenticity with the right jargon and the right procedural practices. We feel the casual excellence that these soldiers embody early on, and we are made privy to the limitations that training and technology have.
The acting is outstanding, with Kitsch, Hirsch, Foster, and Wahlberg each being distinct and sympathetic characters. We want Foster to win the argument over what should be done with the goat-herders that were captured, but we know that his position is wrong, although it’s the only one that keeps them safe. Bana and Ludwig do a great job in their support roles.
And the production value is fantastic, although there are a few moments where the body-abuse noises are a little too much. But we are with them, with the camera work not shaky-cam, but immediate and present.
Peter Berg has delivered a spectacular movie about heroism, sacrifice, camaraderie, and specifically the extraordinary force that is the Navy Seals. It doesn’t overdo drama– it simply presents the events as they were described by Luttrell in his book.
That said, what exactly does this movie glorify? Does it glorify violence? War? American imperialism and nation-building abroad?
Nope. For the majority of the movie, these issues aren’t even raised. The film makes sure we know Shah is a truly bad guy, as we see the guy executing an Afghanistan man. Thus, we have a villain. We have good guys going after a bad guy, and then the good guys have to fight for their lives.
Should the good guys even be there? Not addressed. Directly. Do the villagers who shelter Luttrell support the American mission? Also not addressed.
But at the end of the movie, we see the effect this conflict is having on families. This might have been done with the intent of demonstrating the sacrifice, but it serves rather as a statement against war and a demand that any war that these extraordinary people get sent to, and that their families have to suffer due to, be very careful, very justified, honest, and truly right.
Their sacrifice, training, sense of duty, love, life, and determination are sacred– and must not be wasted.
In the end, the tragedy of war is laid bare. We weep at the loss that war brings and we hope that the people sending these soldiers off to war find a way to avoid war as much as possible.
Whether you agree with the current conflicts aside, war is tragic and these lives and families are sacred. That message is brought home with power at the end of the film. Go see this movie so that you are re-sensitized to the need to diminish war on a global scale and specifically for American men and women in the military.
Content warnings: Plenty of profanity, lots of visceral violence and injuries. High, high body count.
Writing: 4.5 Acting: 5 Overall: 4.5