9.1 out of 10
“Lone Survivor” is a great example of how to pay tribute to those who have served in the American armed forces while also being a great film. Director Peter Berg (“Battleship”) finds that sweet spot of respect and embellishment. Films tend to elaborate when “based on a true story” in an effort to make real life translate into an entertaining film. Many times directors go overboard and the audience can’t help but wonder what parts are real. The filmmakers and cast got this one right.
“Lone Survivor” is powerful, respectful and superb. Every frame is intense and believable.
Any spoilers will be clearly marked so you can avoid reading them if you so choose.
“Lone Survivor” opens in Baltimore on January 9, 2014.
If there ever was a film title that was also a huge spoiler, “Lone Survivor” would be it. But, that is also one of the film’s greatest strengths. Despite knowing how the movie will end, Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster and the rest of the cast manage to give the audience two hours of heart-pounding, armrest clenching, audibly gasping brilliance. The shot selection and cinematography manage to make virtually the entire film incredibly intense. But it also never goes too far. You are given the chance to catch your breath, or breathe again if you found yourself holding it. The balance is perfect. There is enough buildup to make the first tense scene powerful and once it gets going, “Lone Survivor” keeps the pedal down on the thriller throttle.
Everything about this film screams respect. Berg and his cast seemed to take great care to pay tribute to the men and women of the armed forces, and even remember the families left behind. The opening credits pay instant tribute and the rest of the film follows suit. The guys portraying the Navy Seals come off as very tough, as they should, but they also seem human. The actors never take it to comical, tongue-in-cheek or campy levels, making their characters more like comic book heroes. Instead they deliver very real performances. It is clear that every member of this cast wanted to get it right. And they did.
“Lone Survivor” is very well-balanced. At two hours in length, Berg is careful to dedicate enough time to each element of the story without overdoing anything. Probably the most important part of the film is act one, where Berg introduces the characters. In a true life story, the audience needs to connect deeply with the characters. These are real people being portrayed and the audience needs to make the distinction between that and your average fictional characters. Once we have seen these guys in a casual atmosphere, the film switches gears and jumps right into the heart of the story, the action. And, the catalyst that started the fighting is totally believable, because of the characters. We believe these men would make that decision and face whatever consequences that may result. And finally, the film wraps up with a tearful conclusion. The end credits role and pay one final tribute to those who lost their lives over those few days.
There is not a whole lot to say here and it is always harder to find faults in such a powerful film. But, in an effort to explain the lack of a perfect score, the tiny flaws will be listed.
There are a couple of head-scratching moments or plot pieces that are glanced over and not fully explained. And the only way to explain these is to give a couple examples in the spoiler section below.
When the Seals had the farmers tied up as prisoners and decided to let them go, knowing they would tell the Taliban, why did the Seals not take the prisoners up the mountain with them and release them when they were a safe distance away? Basically, they could have taken them along until they were clear of danger or called for the evacuation. But, since this is based on a true story, this must be what the men actually did. If there was a reason why they did not do this, it was never explained.
Also, we never got more than “they were called away” as an explanation for why the Black Hawk helicopters, that were supposed to be on standby for quick evacuation, were gone. Perhaps this was to show the chaos of the situation and the lack of communication that the units actually experienced.
It would have been nice to get a little more information about the results of the conflict. We are given names and photos of the real men who were involved, but we are not told much else about things such as what, or how many, Taliban members were killed, why certain things went wrong, whatever happen to the “lone survivor” after he made it out, etc. Most “true story” military movies provide a lot of information at the end. “Lone Survivor” left us hanging a bit too much.
The Bottom Line
Definitely go see “Lone Survivor”. The performances are great. The characters are incredibly real. The movie will have you plucking your fingernails out of the armrests in the theater after you clenched them for 90 straight minutes. Most importantly, “Lone Survivor” is incredibly respectful. This is a fantastic tribute to those who serve or have served our country. Go see this film. Hug a veteran. Be grateful.