Director Peter Berg brings the horrors and grittiness of the War in Afghanistan into powerful focus with his film Lone Survivor.
For many of us, The War in Afghanistan - in direct response to the events of 9/11 - seemed so distant and unfathomable that its reasons for existing in the first place seemed without logic. Yet, it was a war with a deeply personal tone for those who waged it, as I suppose most wars are. Peter Berg's Lone Survivor doesn't exist merely as patriotic testosterone-fueled rage, instead serving as a forceful and gritty reminder that wars are neither glorious nor ever 'successful.'
Based on the doomed 2005 mission expressed in Marcus Luttrell's 2009 non-fiction book of the same name, Survivor tells the story of 4 real-life Navy SEALs that are sent to eliminate Tablian leader Ahmad Shah. The Texas-born Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg) loves his team - including his commander Lt. Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch), and Matthew Axelson (Ben Foster) - like brothers. Prior to the op, we get plenty of backstory (including an appearance by Eric Bana as the team's boss) about their training and the day-to-day exploits leading up to the tragic events of their deaths. When the team accidentally makes contact with a group of goat herders, they must decide whether to let them go or kill them, knowing that the previous is suicide and the latter against their orders. As the battle begins and our heroes are picked off one by one, a lone SEAL somehow survives as he awaits rescue in a small village that actually hates the Taliban more the Americans.
Berg, who was inserted with a SEAL team in Iraq when he wrote Lone Survivor, was unable to get the film greenlit until he agreed to make the epic flop Battleship first - that film soiled his reputation and Kitsch's, who's still paying for it along with the awful John Carter. Luckily, both Berg and Kitsch redeem themselves in high fashion, with Kitsch emerging as both a leader of men and the first to sacrifice himself so that his team can get home. Kitsch shines in the face of that act, along with Foster whose spirited performance makes his death all the more poignant. This is Wahlberg's film, and he approaches his craft with the steely-eyed glance of an actor who's at his best in the most human way possible. To survive an event so horrific - and of your own choosing - is ironic, but Wahlberg never cheapens the moment, serving instead as the emotional anchor for a story with no easy outcome in sight. Bana, who agreed to appear in any role after reading the book, is one of our favorites in Hollywood, and his appearance only ups the ante.
While Berg has assembled a great team of human actors, another less-likely one plays just as formidable a role. The wooded and rocky environment of Afghanistan serves as an aggressor here, engaging our heroes as they struggle to emerge from it by falling down its deep cliffs, crunching and smashing their way in several freefalls that's among the gruesome we've seen in awhile. It's here that the true spirit of our team is realized and nature plays a cruel enemy, extolling its virtues in stunning detail. And yes, there's 150 Taliban raining down RPG and gunfire on them as well. Composer Steve Jablonsky has created two excellent scores this year (along with Ender's Game), and Lone Survivor delivers the goods. Granted, some of it - like the long tribute ending - are too much, but there's a tone here that's clearly anti-Transformers which is welcomed.
A film like this is hard to watch, especially when American servicemen are being killed. It would have been better to have witnessed their deaths in a quick series of shots, but Berg smartly chooses to show the viciousness over the gloried, agonizing over every injury while our team tries to keep their heads - and guns - up. For all their efforts, they get ripped to shreds by bullets, impaled by tree branches and shards of metal, and bludgeoned on rocks before the final and bloody end arrives. As one can tell, there's a lot of layers to Lone Survivor: a fitting tribute to the struggles of the SEALs, the relatable brotherhood of soldiers cast into a fire, and a cautionary tale of war. But it's the story of the Pashtun people - who hated the Taliban more than the Americans - which served as an unexpected appeal. Their willingness to take in a member of the US military at the sacrifice of their own lives is an aspect that Berg didn't need to add, but which makes the film immeasurably better. Without it, Lone Survivor is militaristic propaganda, released in the wake of Osama Bin Laden's murder, and lacking an important emotional punch that audiences will not see coming. In doing so, the film casts a different light on the War in Afghanistan, elevating it beyond the mere bloodbath.
Lone Survivor shows us that the struggle in Afghanistan was far deeper than many of us knew. Filled with enough powerful performances to operate the heavy machinery that is the US military, its message about the universal idea of brotherhood transcends its mere story of survival. For those of us who've never had the honor of serving our nation's military, Lone Survivor shows us war in its most hellish aspects, not in the glory of mass-assassinations but in the personal struggles that no doubt arise when human lives and government orders are caught in the crossfire. Perhaps its overly-patriotic tone is the reason why it's awaiting a 2014 release, but it deserves a second consideration, even if its tone is hard to watch.
Lone Survivor is rated R for strong bloody war violence and pervasive language and has a runtime of approximately 120 minutes.
Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.
Please Leave A Comment-