Based on a true story, ‘Lone Survivor’ is a brutally authentic depiction of a 2005’s failed Operation Red Wings. At times, difficult to watch, the opening credits show the grit and fortitude it takes to become an elite Navy SEAL. Written and helmed by actor-turned-director Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights, The Kingdom), he doesn't waste time with too much backstory. It centers on four SEAL team members Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) and Matthew Axelson (Ben Foster) as they goof around while waiting for their next mission. Berg smartly stays clear of geopolitics and quickly immerses us into the horror of battle these brave men had to endure.
At a base in Afghanistan, they’re briefed on their mission by Lieutenant Commander Erik Kristensen (Eric Bana). It’s treated like a pretty standard mission. Their goal is to capture or kill Taliban commander Ahmad Shah. The guys say their goodbyes to loved ones in emails and are packed into a chopper to be deployed on a rocky, forested mountain to begin reconnaissance and surveillance of the enemy target. They are equipped with the latest technology and gear that make it look like a routine mission. They hunker down in the trees waiting for engagement. Then the unexpected happens, local goatherders discover their hiding place. Now it becomes a question of whether the SEALs should let the shepherds go or “terminate the complication.” It’s a heated debate and Murphy issues the order. They will let them go and abort the mission.
Fasten your seatbelts. This is where that morally correct decision will come back to haunt them. Given the title of the movie and how it is based on Luttrell’s memoir (persuasively played by Wahlberg), we know that disaster is just around the corner or in this case, the next mountain peak. Regretting their decision, the four of them relocate to a less desirable observation point. As Axelson prophetically says, “I think this op is cursed.” Within hours, they find themselves ambushed by a small army of Taliban soldiers. It’s an intense firefight. No matter how many they shoot and kill, there are more coming around the next boulder. You will be gripping the edge of your seat. Real Navy SEALs were consulted to make sure the bloody battle scenes are as real as possible. It’s intense. When the men get shot, you hear the sound as it pierces their flesh. When they fall down a mountainside, you hear bones crack and bruises oozing blood.
All four actors who portray the SEAL team are solid. After a few misfires at the box office, with ‘John Carter’ and ‘Battleship’ (also directed by Berg), Kitsch gives a powerful performance as the squad leader. Emile Hirsch gives a moving performance as well. His character goes through the ringer. The injuries he sustains are gut-wrenching to watch. You’ll cringe in pain. Ben Foster is equally good as he fights to the very last bullet. What can be said about Mark Wahlberg? He has become a likable action hero at the box office. He never lets us down and puts his heart into the lead role. Just when Berg hits us with all the firepower he can muster, the third act is a surprising and a thoughtful way to cap off the story. He adeptly shows the complexity involved with the afghan people and how they all should not be automatically labeled the, “bad guys.”
If you like war films like ‘Black Hawk Down’ and ‘The Hurt Locker,’ you don’t want to miss ‘Lone Survivor.’ Not since ‘Saving Private Ryan,’ has a movie captured the gruesome intensity of battle. It’s not a war epic but what Berg opts for is showing a gritty tale of courage and survival. We sometimes forget what these brave men endure in modern-warfare, Berg successfully reminds us. Check out the official trailer http://youtu.be/yoLFk4JK_RM.