Capturing the essence of war has been a theatrical tradition ever since the Greeks invented drama. In the cinematic practice, war films range from fully inspiring to grusomely tragic. Lone Survivor is an example of the latter.
The film tells the story of an ill-fated Navy SEAL operation named RED WINGS. During their mission to kill Taliban officer, Ahmad Shah, a SEAL team is stranded in a hostile region of Afganistan. What follows is a horrific series of events as the four SEALs attempt to escape a barrage of enemy forces after they are ambushed.
The film opens with a montage of intense Navy SEAL training exercies as preparation for what’s to follow. Shots of submersive drills, endurance tests, and tactical maneuvers serve two purposes: 1) they make the audience have an initial feeling that nothing can be harder than this, and 2) they serve as a reflective point for when things become exponentially harder than this. Writer/Director Peter Berg spent four years and a modest $40 million budget to get Marcus Luttrell’s memoir to the big screen. The result is operatic realism. Berg scales down the “war film” to create a film that while inherintly anti-war is also a celebration of the men who possess an uncommon type of courage.
Berg is a filmmaker who has dabbled in this subject matter before with 2007’s The Kingdom. In that film, Berg showed war as a fast, swift, pulse pounding, adrenaline pumping game, almost like the football depicted in the television series Friday Night Lights, also created by Berg. Lone Survivor is an entirely different animal. Here Berg narrows his scope and slows things down. This brutal battle along the Afgahni hillside is as harrowing, frightening, and vital as perhaps any of its kind. Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Emile Hersh, and Taylor Kitsch play the band of stranded soldiers who intermitedly attempt to communicate with their commanding officer, played by Eric Bana. Berg’s deliberate pace is on full display packed with slow motion evidence of the blood, guts, and horrors of war.
What the film has working against it is its outcome, which with the title Lone Survivor, should not surprise anyone. Thus, it is clear that Berg has more on his agenda than to tell a story. That agenda is to give tribute to those who fight to keep this country safe while also suggesting what could have been if they didn’t have to. This agenda is met, but with a melancholy spirit. The leanness of the film and the bleak tone make it difficult to watch, yet the film is strong, well acted, and evocotive. The final scenes suggest some of the ironic complexities of modern even with the film’s simplistic nature. While better films about this topic exist, Berg does a solid job delivering this particular story. That being said, this is not a film for everybody by any stretch of the imagination; however, it is successful at depicting those naturalistic forces that are at work in the quagmire of today’s combative warfare. B
Lone Survivor is rated R and has a running time of 2 hours and 1 minute.