Lone Survivor is an authentically searing, unapologetic film. Not since Saving Private Ryan has a film put us face-to-face with the evil and ugliness of warfare. Director Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights, Battleship) not only shows us the courageous efforts of our soldiers, but the complete and utter hell they are put through during wartime. With every bullet wound and broken bone that is endured, the excruciating pain becomes too real. You can practically feel it in your theater seat. And while the title of the film itself suggests only one man comes out of this alive, it is how he gets out that makes this journey truly remarkable.
It is a typical morning for Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg) and his comrades Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch), Matt Axelson (Ben Foster), and the leader of the pack, Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch). They distract themselves by giving each other a hard time or participating in friendly competitions. However, their fun is short-lived as soon as Lt. Cmdr. Erik Kristensen (Eric Bana) lays out their next mission: to kill Ahmed Shahd, a dangerous Taliban fighter responsible for murdering 20 marines in the last week alone.
With no time to spare, our four Navy SEALS are dropped off in the mountains outside of a village where intelligence claims Shahd is residing. What is suppose to be a quiet, get in and get out plan falls apart when a group of goat herds discover them. The team captures them and an argument breaks out over whether to release them and take their chances or kill them. Eventually, Murphy makes the decision to let them go partially because two of them are young boys and if they did get rid of them, word may get out and the media would tear them apart. They stick to the original plan until they instantly find themselves under fire while being extremely outnumbered.
This is where the film really shifts gears.The warfare goes on in real-time with no timeouts. The film is relentless leaving no time to catch your breath. The portrayal of the terror and imperilment of this live-or-die situation not only rings true but is undeniably effective. None of this would come across so clear and true if it was not for the terrific performances of the entire cast. But the four main guys who bring these heroes to the big screen are excellent.
Kitsch almost makes you forget about his performance in Berg’s last movie, Battleship. He is a good, young talent and needs more projects like this to show it off. Hirsch always seems underrated, but I do not think he’s ever turned in a bad performance. From Into the Wild and Milk to Killer Joe to now this, he is capable of anything and he should not go unnoticed. On the other hand, Foster has been making people pay attention for years now. He is known to play characters with great passion and forcefulness, and that’s undoubtedly the case here in this film.
All three of these up and coming actors deliver top-notch performances of their career. Yet it’s Wahlberg who makes the biggest statement of all. He has not been this good since The Fighter a few years back. His portrayal is far from showy. It is a natural kind of acting where he does not even appear to notice the camera in front of his face. For a film like this, it feels like he was meant to be apart of it. His presence is not only needed but welcomed.
Every once in a while the film crosses the line in to a generic action movie, and it deserves better. So as soon as it does cross, Berg takes notice and jumps right back over. In his past movies such as The Rundown and The Kingdom, he has displayed a real talent when it comes to setting up and delivering action sequences, but Lone Survivor is different. Along with bringing the feeling of immediacy and a huge dose of intensity, his filmmaking is more personal and honest. Berg captures the guys’ struggle, fear and pain. Often it becomes unbearable to watch.
It is easy to see the respect everyone involved with the film has for not only these particular individuals, but for all of our armed forces. As far as your feelings about the Afghan war or just war in general, those are irrelevant. Lone Survivor is not about why they are fighting, it’s about what they have to do once they are there. Once the film is over, the realization takes you over that what you just witnessed really happened. Those men really did go through that.
The truth is this is just one story of who knows how many that are never told much less made in to a movie for the world to see. They don’t all have happy endings either, but Lone Survivor without a question gives us a look in to the sacrifice these soldiers make and the strong brotherhood they share.