Lone Survivor

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.

You will enjoy Lone Survivor if you liked:
Saving Private Ryan
The Grey
The Impossible
Thin Red Line

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

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.

Rated: R

*     *     *     *     *

Story

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 Hannahis 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.

Critique

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

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The Mechanic

The Mechanic is, sadly, not as nifty as the previews promise. It lumbers along trying to make the conflicts and fight scenes meaningful, but it doesn’t take the time to think the relationships through and this weakens the entire movie.

Even the always-accessible and charming Jason Statham can’t elevate this flick beyond something of a clinical, joyless actioner.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released January 28, 2011

Written by Richard Wenk and Lewis John Carlino

Directed by Simon West

Starring Mini Anden, Jason Statham, Ben Foster, Donald Sutherland, and Tony Goldwyn

Rated: R

*     *     *     *      *

Story

Arthur Bishop (Statham) is a professional, slick, cold assassin who can be relied on to do his hit jobs flawlessly- making them look accidental as needed or anything else the client requires. After he is deceived and does a job he regrets, he finds motivation to go after the people who had his mentor (Sutherland) killed.

But in the meantime, his mentor’s son, Steve (Foster) is a lackadaisical no-good punk who doesn’t seem to have any reason to feel sentimental about his dad. Nonetheless, he wants revenge and he convinces Bishop to train him as an assassin. Steve finds direction in this path and it turns out he isn’t bad at it, but his lack of polish, control, and focus dooms him to not being anywhere near as good as Bishop.

The two work together to do jobs here and there, and having Steve around throws Bishop’s routine off. Add to this the totally forgettable dalliances that Bishop has with Sarah, who it appears is a high-priced prostitute who has feelings for Bishop and for whom, if he had the ability to do so, Bishop my have feelings as well.

Soon Steve and Bishop home in on Dean (Goldwyn) as the big baddie. Dean is also the boss of the network that Bishop has been working for, so the guy has a lot of resources to dedicate to stopping Bishop and his protege.

This all leads to bullets flying, clever maneuvering, nifty fights, and the question of whether the servant has become the master.

Critique

The only things that The Mechanic has going for it are three good actors doing as best they can and some fun action scenes. But even those action scenes can’t top the opening sequence wherein Bishop assassinates a very bad man.

Statham is wonderful at the slow burn and we want to see his righteous rage burning in the set of his stubbled jaw and square chin, but there’s not enough emotional weight to the conflicts in The Mechanic, so Statham never really gets to slow burn. He does what he can, and Foster is great as a wily, vindictive punk, but the writers didn’t think nearly enough about what would drive these characters and how their relationships really would work. Goldwyn does a workaday job as a villain. It would be nice if he could find another role, though.

Despite some fairly solid action sequences and plenty of attempts to make the viewer care about what’s going on, those attempts fall flat because we are just never given a reason to root for, or hate, anyone. Thus, this is a flat action flick that only really engages when the fights get going.

Content warnings: salty language, some sexuality and nudity, plenty of heavy violence

Writing: 2.5          Acting: 4          Overall: 2.5

It doesn’t take a mechanic to know how to share this review and website. Do it. Karma will kiss you on the lips. No, not your sister’s roommate; the universe’s justice system!

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Contraband

Contraband is not Mark Wahlberg’s best work, but it is still a really good ride. It pulls out some smart moves, even while challenging the suspension of disbelief a little much, and does it all with a lot of heart and fun.

The people who say it’s just a simple and run-of-the-mill action movie overlook a surprisingly good plot and a terrific performance from Ben Foster.

Here’s a preview:


And now some deets:

Released January 13, 2012

Written by Aaron Guzikowski,  Arnaldur Indriðason (original Icelandic screenplay), and Óskar Jónasson (original Icelandic screenplay)

Directed by Baltasar Kormakur

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, Giovanni Ribisi, Lukas Haas, and Ben Foster

*     *     *     *    *

Contraband is an American version of an Icelandic film. In fact, the American version is directed by the star of the Icelandic film.

Story

The film follows Chris Farraday (Wahlberg), a legendary smuggler who has gone straight. He has a wife (Beckinsale) and two boys now and runs his own security business. The problem is that Kate, his wife, has a lame brother, Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) who was roped into doing a smuggling job and screwed it up. So now we have Tim Briggs (Ribisi) going after Andy and threatening to kill him if Andy doesn’t make it up somehow.

So of course, Chris steps in and has to save the day. Add to this conflict the fact that Briggs starts threatening Chris’ family, and we have some pretty good tension. Then we add Sebastian Abney (Ben Foster), a friend so close to Chris that they’re practically brothers. They worked together and now each has gone legit. Sebastian is left behind to watch over Kate and the kids while Chris does a smuggling job wherein a bunch of counterfeit bills will be hidden on a ship coming up from Panama.

Now we have the operation, which is conducted by a group of men who have obviously worked together previously. These men know each other, have a history that is very nicely shown in their chemistry and interactions, and are real people. The group dynamics are one of the best part of the film.

Twists and turns come along as they ought to for a heist film, but sharing them here would be mean.

That said, there are a couple of plot blotches that bother me. One is that I don’t see how Farraday had the time to do what he does to fool everybody at the end. Two is that I don’t understand how a professional thief could NOT guess what that painting was.

Critique

Contraband unfolds as you would expect it to, with the plan going awry and Chris having to think fast and be resourceful. What’s nice is that the plan doesn’t go awry simply because a story like this demands tension and conflict and writers artificially stuck some twists in. The twists come because of characters’ choices. And these are choices that are all very nicely motivated.

In fact, the more I reflect on this film, the more I appreciate the arcs that the characters go through, as well as how well motivated the action of the story is. Andy screws things up first out of fear for himself, then out of fear for his sister and nephews. Sebastian causes problems for a multitude of reasons. This is good stuff.

Ribisi does a very fine job as a menacing, pretty much white trash drug dealer who is successful because he is as mean as a starving alligator. His accent and mannerisms are well done. He seems a little small, so the stakes of the film seem a little small, but his insanity makes up for a lot.

Kate Beckinsale is wasted. She does a lot of worrying, makes an idiotic choice, and winds up in very big trouble. I wanted her to be more intelligent and proactive, indeed, it wouldn’t have been that hard to write this character better.

Lukas Haas is building a nice career as a character actor, and he turns in a sensitive and interesting performance here. Yes, some of the tropes he plays out are very predictable, but he convinces.

Ben Foster is the highlight. His character is in a lot of trouble, and Foster plays Sebastian very well as right on the brink of total catastrophe.

I really liked Mark Wahlberg in this. He showed some range and I think his character was quite real. I particularly liked his character’s interactions with Briggs, in that Farraday is just as tough and mean as Briggs and is not inclined to take any crap from him.

Other than the two plot issues and Beckinsale’s character being wasted, Contraband is a great way to start the year’s action movies. I highly recommend this film as a solid, well-written and acted actioner that ends with everyone getting exactly what they deserve.

Content warnings: Plenty of salty language and some ugly violence. No sexuality or nudity.

Writing: 4         Acting: 4          Overall: 4

Don’t believe me? See if my review matches those on Rotten Tomatoes.

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