Writer/Director Peter Berg’s action-drama Lone Survivor uses extremes of pathos and violence to memorialize a band of SEALS who fell in action in Afghanistan to overwhelming forces in this adaptation of survivor Marcus Luttrell’s book. Unfortunately, producer/star Mark Wahlberg’s goal of personalizing these heroes’ sacrifice is overwhelmed by the prolonged, gruesome manners of their deaths.
Even worse, the film at times diminishes the SEALS’ humanity with empty machismo à la John Wayne’s jingoist paean to the Vietnam War, The Green Berets. One character even paraphrases the Duke’s cavalier comment at the death of a fellow Beret: “At least he took a lot of them with him.”
The movie opens and closes with scenes of the SEALS enjoying life with their comrades and families, a blatant tug at the viewer’s heartstrings that bookends the actual story. The story involves a kill-or-capture mission against a Taliban leader that goes horribly wrong. First, bad intell brings the four heroes to a camp hosting 200, not ten Taliban soldiers. Rules of engagement then seal the band’s fate when they release three hostile civilians who stumble upon them in the hills and then set the entire camp after them.
The action is authentic, the verisimilitude convincing and the story compelling. However, true stories don’t enjoy the easy disconnect from reality that do fictional stories, which allow an audience to view all actions and deaths as mere constructs. Authenticity can prove disturbing rather than involving.
Lone Survivor addresses this issue by stereotyping the bad guys as evil incarnate so that, as in fiction, they can be meaningless targets whose destruction carries no ramification or culpability. However, many Taliban fighters are not believers or even willing participants. Many are forcibly or financially conscripted into the enemy ranks, or so isolated and uneducated that they are easily brainwashed by religious demagogues. Watching an historical firefight, therefore, you never know if a good guy is dropping the hammer on a sinner or a saint or just some poor slob in the wrong place at the wrong time. This awareness causes the SEALS’ wide-scale slaughter of their Taliban pursuers to fail to elicit the applause Wahlberg anticipates. They are necessary kills but not necessarily righteous kills.
Wahlberg intends this movie to serve as a tribute to the fallen heroes and their families. Most unsettling of all, however, is wondering how those families feel when they watch their loved ones’ graphic, prolonged and torturous deaths on a big screen in surround sound. How many traumatized children will ask, Is that really how Dad died?
The Lone Survivor is indeed a tale worth telling and a sacrifice worth remembering, but the manner of the depiction strikes almost as disturbing a note as do the losses themselves.
View the official trailer at the following link: