So the clue is in the title and if you have yet so see the film then I don’t really need to tell you how it ends. It’s not an analogy or a metaphor to bedazzle the audience, it throws the spoiler right out there, so the audience is not anticipating a plot twist or narrative bending revelation.
Based on the bestselling book by survivor Marcus Luttrell, the film tells the remarkable true story of Operation Red Wings, a failed 2005 U.S. mission to capture or kill Taliban commander Ahmad Shahd and his western world hating right hand man.
The story starts at the end where we see our lone survivor US Navy SEAL, Marcus Luttrell played by Mark Wahlberg on a helicopter fighting for his life, through his flashbacks. It then takes us to how events unfolded three days prior to his nothing short of a miracle rescue.
At Bagram Air Base, Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) and Matt Axelson (Ben Foster) await their assignment which is to scope out Ahmad Shahd. Whilst fooling about entertaining one another, they welcome Shane Patton (Alexander Ludwig) into the ranks via an initiation ceremony, which involves dancing and reciting a Navy SEALs mantra.
They receive the all clear and are transported to a mountain where they can scout the local village for their intended targets. Problems arises when the four SEALs, despite having carefully concealed themselves along the slopes of the mountain, are discovered accidentally by a trio of Afghan goatherds. Their surprisers happen to be an elderly man, a teenager and a young child.
With their communications down they have no way of contacting base to inform Lt Erik Kristensen that the operation has been compromised.
While these unarmed civilians do not appear connected with the Taliban, their hostility is readily apparent and the SEALs must decide whether to kill them which means breaking the Geneva convention and sparking an international outcry or to release them an hope for the best. After some heated discussions they decide to release them and retreat. Here we, the audience are faced a morality question, what would we do in such a situation?
When they let them go, the speed and the fury that the teenager descends from the mountain, immediately spells trouble for our boys. They barely make it to the top to conceal themselves when we see Taliban shadows lurking in the trees, and then the ambush commences.
Not since Saving Private Ryan have we been subjected to such a sustained, up-close-and-personal combat sequence and there are times when the violence is so brutal, I find myself squinting. It’s apparent that what’s important to Berg is not to make a cinematic masterpiece but to make an accurate masterpiece.
Wahlberg said he didn’t read the book so that he wouldn’t clash with Berg’s vision for the film and that he wanted it to be solely from Berg’s perception, which in hindsight was a very good move on his part.
Luttrell, and his fellow SEALs may be the U.S. military version of supermen, but we also see them as regular fellows with real hopes and dreams. They have wives and girlfriends to go back home to, houses to paint, impending nuptials and expensive Arabian horses to buy. We are not sold the American dream through them but simply see brave men doing a job to support their loved ones whilst defending their beloved country. The opening half-hour is filled with small moments and brief glimpses at the material cost of war, the lives that these men who made the ultimate sacrifice left behind.
Berg is no stranger to the portrayal of American masculinity (Friday Night Lights) or drama in Middle East (The Kingdom). In an earlier scene Dietz and Murphy race one another at dawn around the airbase perimeter and they are neatly poised as perfect American specimens infused with the desire to win at all costs. Perhaps a metaphor for the country they fight for? Another memorable scene involves the group leader Lieutenant Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch) clambering, horribly maimed, up to an exposed rock and certain death in order to transmit a call for help.
The sheer brilliance of the cinematography has to be applauded. The way we gasp as their almost lifeless bodies are thrown over mountain tops continuously as well as they try to avoid the ricochet of bullets left and right is sometimes too tense to watch. For all of its intensity and visceral imagery the film deserves its Oscar nomination in the sound and editing departments, if nothing else.
The four men are well cast and authentically portrayed by Wahlberg, Kitsch, Ben Foster and Emilie Hirsch, all near unrecognisable beneath their wholesome facial hair. There’s something understated about their performances and you absolutely root for them to survive. The bottom line is Berg wants you to exit the cinema with a sense of appreciation for military sacrifice and to remember that these men are your father, my brother and her husband.
I want to thank Berg for not making this to be another film about the “savagery” of The Afghan people who have “nothing but contempt for the west”. Instead, he shows the graceful defiance of one Afghan family man who went on to save Luttrell’s life by defending a 2000 year old honour to protect with no questions asked.
Lone Survivor isn’t just another glorified war movie it’s much better than that!
Director: Peter Berg
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster, Eric Bana
Screenplay: Peter Berg
Runtime: 121 mins
Enjoy the trailer