Sure, the new Mark Wahlberg war film, Lone Survivor (opening today), is accurately named. But its title doesn't necessarily produce tension-riddled drama since we are given the outcome upfront. Based on the book of the same name (the 2007 best-seller by Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson), it details a real-life failed mission during the War in Afghanistan, a Navy SEALs mission called "Operation Red Wings," in which four soldiers were sent out into enemy territory to kill or capture a significant Taliban leader.
Four soldiers go in, in a film entitled Lone Survivor. Hmmm...I wonder how many will make it? In a film positioning Mark Wahlberg as its star, could he be the one?
Annoyance with the title aside, Lone Survivor is riveting - gut-wrenching - in its depiction of war violence. Knowing the outcome doesn't take away from the impact of what we see happen, and what we see happen is nearly impossible to erase from our minds.
As it should be with good, impactful war movies, where Hollywood "action" is all but removed in place of real-life brutality. It is important that we see what our soldiers go through, what these men face and why, as a country, we must support them in all possible ways. It's hard to imagine or forgive the failure of American media, that these types of missions - failed or otherwise - rarely make national headlines, while most Americans are fed daily fluff...too distracted by keeping up with the Kardashians to care about what is really going on in the world with the men (and women) tasked with providing them their freedom.
But I digress. In this tale we see just how horrific war is, perhaps depicted in a shockingly powerful way that hasn't been seen since the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan. Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster portray the other brave soldiers taking part in the mission. What begins as something seemingly routine quickly spirals out of control. As these soldiers fight for their lives behind enemy lines, we also see the tactical failings of their superior commanders (in scenes with Eric Bana portraying a soldier with too few resources to mount a successful rescue mission).
Lone Survivor is effective and at times, incredibly hard to watch. If not nominated for Best Picture, this is a film that should be a heavy favorite in categories involving make-up, special effects, editing and sound. Although simplistic in its story, it is an astounding technical achievement.
As the film progresses, it becomes less about the fact that one of them survive and much more about just how the heck this soldier will live. It doesn't seem likely that he will. Until the film surprises us with its humanity. In a subtle way, it shows us the true nature of modern-day war: That "bad guys" and "good guys" are not so clearly defined, and are sometimes indistinguishable from one another.
Lone Survivor then, isn't concerned that you know the ending of the story. It is much more concerned with depicting the life - and death - of the faceless, modern American soldier...a story that most Americans have become desensitized to. The results are humbling, eye-opening and horrifying.
Genre: Action, Thriller, Drama
Run Time: 2 hours, 1 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Alexander Ludwig, Emile Hirsch, Taylor Kitsch, Eric Bana, Jerry Ferrara, Scott Elrod, Ali Suliman
Written & Directed by Peter Berg (Battleship, The Kingdom, Friday Night Lights)
Opens locally on Friday, Jan 10, 2014 (check for show times).
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How to read Tom Santilli's "Star Ratings:"
- 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
- 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
- 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
- 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
- 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time