"Lone Survivor" Review: Craig's First Take

Photo Credit: © 2013 - Universal Pictures

“Lone Survivor” is a Navy Seal movie, one that shows deference to its subject right off the bat with footage of the real thing-guys pushing themselves to their physical limits in situations where they are cut off from oxygen, comfort, warmth, and various other things we take for granted. Director Peter Berg bookends the film with more photos and video of these guys with Peter Gabriel singing David Bowie’s “Heroes” over them. In the middle is a “based on a true story” film based on Marcus Luttrel’s book of the same name, one that puts us in the action but struggles in the script department.

Beginning at the Bagram Air Force Base, we see this unit doing the various things we’ve come to expect from anything that involves a brotherhood- training, hazing the rookies, and sending messages to wives back home. The meat here is a mission to capture and kill Taliban leader Ahmad Shahd. Luttrel (Mark Wahlberg), and his team members (Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch, and Taylor Kitsch) are dropped into the mountains for what should be routine until Talibani spies stumble upon their location. With communications down, the mission is now deeply compromised.

Berg, also writing the screenplay, wastes no time getting to the mission. The most effort he’ll give to characterization is to mention one guy is getting married, while another is, maybe, having a baby. His actors aren’t really called upon to create personalities so much as be put through the motions of a full-blown, undermatched battle with several hundred Taliban. The last act gives Wahlberg a chance to add some depth here, portraying the fear and confusion when his character is helped by an Afghani tribe, but mostly we’re kept fairly disconnected from these characters .

Where “Survivor” really comes alive then is in the visceral way Berg portrays men bred to battle through gun-shot wounds and cringe-worthy falls (and from the looks of it, concussions), wrapping up the blown-to-hell hand and stuffing dirt in a wound and getting back out there. This sometimes feels too much like a war movie; bold pronouncements like “I wish we could have killed more of these f******” and cliché plotting make it feel so. Speaking of the F-word, it seems like Berg overuses it to portray toughness. He doesn’t have to. If anything “Survivor” should make nearly everybody feel like less of a man.