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Movie Review: 'Lone Survivor'

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When last we left writer/director Peter Berg, he had dug himself quite a deep hole with the disastrous “Battleship,” an attempt to adapt the board game into a film. As anyone who saw the film can tell you, it failed on just about every level possible with its numbing action sequences, lack of character development, and flat storyline. In an effort to climb out of the hole, Berg has decided to scale things back by concentrating on something smaller and significantly different: a patriotic tale that puts American soldiers in harm’s way. With our heroes fighting for their lives, it seems like this would be a hard project to screw up on any level, but as we quickly discover, Berg was apparently more deeply affected by “Battleship” than originally thought.

Based on a true story, the film focuses on the 2005 mission “Operation Red Wings,” in which four members of SEAL Team 10 were ordered to kill or capture Taliban leader Ahmad Shahd. Everything is going to plan until a pair of goat herders come across their position in the mountains of Afghanistan. They eventually decide to let them go, which means they will need to flee immediately before the Taliban gets word of their presence. Quicker than they thought possible, they are engaged in a chaotic firefight. Stuck behind enemy lines with little chance of rescue, they must fend off the advancing adversaries, whose numbers far exceed their own.

In theory, the way this film should have worked is that we should get to know the SEAL members early on, allowing us to become attached to them before they enter into the firefight that acts as the centerpiece of the film. However, issues plague the storyline very early on, including a complete lack of character development, which in turn results in a lack of attachment to the characters. With little to distinguish the different members of the SEAL team, they basically become interchangeable, which is never a good thing when you’re trying to create fully-formed characters that the audience can root for.

Because of the lack of attachment, a feeling of strong indifference comes forward as our heroes become engaged in the battle for their lives, but what’s more is that the firefight itself becomes monotonous when you have no reason to root for the characters. The battle goes on for at least a good 30 minutes, so in all this time, when we’re supposed to be on the edge of our seats as the various members of the team are under fire, the audience’s attention begins to wane as we wait for a single reason to become involved.

This eventually spills into a third act that is more of the same, except we’re down to the “lone survivor” being protected by the good Samaritans of a nearby village. If you were hoping for any surprises at this point, you won’t find any. Instead, you are once again treated to a monotonous gunfight that will merely have your attention wandering once more, especially since we still haven’t been given a reason to care at this point.

You may have noticed that I didn’t mention a single character by name in the synopsis, but that’s because names never end up mattering here. That’s not to say that the performances from Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, and Ben Foster are bad. They’re adequate, but nothing memorable. It’s hardly their fault though. Berg’s screenplay doesn’t give them the chance to become real people. They remain generic cardboard cutouts from the first scene to the last. In a film where character development was going to be vitally important to the story, it’s rather shocking that he would skip it all together.

You would think that Berg would have learned from “Battleship” that characters can’t be a second thought, just like the storyline. If the audience doesn’t have anyone to connect to, then you’re not giving them a reason to care about anything occurring in the film. When our heroes come under fire from the Taliban, we should be rooting for each and every one of them to make it out alive, but instead all they receive is an overwhelming indifference. “Lone Survivor” should have been a rousing experience and a thrilling testament to the bravery of these young men. Sadly, what they’re given is a completely forgettable tribute. 2/4 stars.

Starts tonight in theaters everywhere.

Now playing in theaters: The Wolf of Wall Street, Her, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Inside Llewyn Davis, American Hustle, Saving Mr. Banks, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Dallas Buyers Club

Recent Blu-ray/DVD releases: Star Trek: Enterprise - Season Three, Thanks for Sharing, Insidious: Chapter 2, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, Elysium, The Hunt, Touchy Feely, The Rooftop, Drinking Buddies, Inpractical Jokers: Season One, Planes, Paranoia, The To Do List, Blackfish

Also be sure to check out my lists of the Best and Worst Films of 2013.

Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic.

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