MRR Review: "Lone Survivor"

Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

Movie Review: "Lone Survivor"

Rating: R

Length: 121 minutes

Release Date: January 10, 2014

Directed by: Peter Berg

Genre: Action/Biography/Drama


Several veterans' autobiographies have been published about their Middle Eastern and African combat experiences. The most famous of these, "Black Hawk Down," detailed the raid on a Somali warlord. "Lone Survivor" is also a memoir written by a combat survivor. Unlike "Black Hawk Down," however, the story is streamlined to resemble the more simplistic style of the old western pictures. It is not your typical war movie. But, Peter Berg, the director of "Lone Survivor," does not create the typical when making movies. This film is proof of that.

"Lone Survivor" features the talents of some of Hollywood's leading action and dramatic stars. Mark Wahlberg plays Marcus Luttrell, the author of the book on which the movie is based. He is joined by Taylor Kitsch (who plays Michael Murphy), Emilie Hirsch (who plays Danny Dietz), and Ben Foster (who plays Matt Axelson). These four men carry the movie in the same fashion as the original SEAL team carried out their important mission—with diligence and strength.

The movie follows four soldiers on a raid against the Taliban in a small Afghan village. It is believed that Ahmad Shah (played by Yousuf Azami) is holed up in the village. He is to be killed by the US military. Officially called Operation Red Wings, the mission needs only four SEALS to carry it out. The film begins away from the stress of the desert outside the village to show audiences just how close the unit is. Their training and routine is shown in montage before the action really starts.

As the team sits and waits for the signal to go into the village, they are approached—surrounded—by a large flock of goats and their herders. With the mission on the line, the team's leader must decide what to do with the goat herders. His decision leads to a standoff with the very people the SEALS were charged to kill. Four men enter into the fire fight, but not all make it out.

Peter Berg creates a movie that sheds light on the small, but vital missions that help the US in the ongoing war in the gulf. His simple style leaves no room for underlying themes or political messages. It is a style that is very similar to the old westerns, where the enemy is as clearly defined as is his location. There is only one mission, which is to kill the enemy. No other information is needed. Berg's film explores this darker, more realistic side of war with little room for misinterpretation; war is brutal, scary and painful. People will get hurt. Things will explode, and innocent bystanders will get in the way.

An example of this brutish style is one of the falls during the film. A man is shown taking a heart-stopping dive that culminates in a crash at the bottom of a mountain in Afghanistan. The camera captures broken, shredded skin, broken bones and lots of blood. Berg's realist view of the war adds depth to the violence, making war seem as natural as a rain shower. The firefights with grenades, automatic weapons, and even a rocket launcher are worked in like natural elements of the film.

Wahlberg portrayal of author and title character Luttrell's plight, as well as his struggle to get home later is very strong. Berg also uses the actor to exhibit some of the realism of war in a scene that presents Wahlberg performing field surgery on a soldier's leg. Again, the images are hard to swallow at times, but they also seem natural to a movie such as this. After all, brutal injuries and death in war are inevitable.

Fans of "Black Hawk Down" and another SEAL movie, "Zero Dark Thirty," may find the movie somewhat lacking. The political agenda did provide a dimension to those films that may have been necessary in "Lone Survivor." However, audiences will soon find that this movie has its focus on the soldiers and the mission. The politics would only get in the way of this film, making it veer off in a direction no one wants to go. Viewers can immerse themselves in the depth of character needed in the men's interaction before and during the mission.

As the name of the movie suggests, there is only one who makes it back. Once the movie begins, the audience will quickly find itself forgetting this detail and rooting for the team as a whole to come home. "Lone Survivor" works well as a war film that stays focused about the realities of war. Audiences will remember the experience long after leaving the theater.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5