Actor-turned-director Peter Berg has a speckled history as a filmmaker, with his fair share of bad (Hancock, Battleship) sprinkled in with good (Friday Night Lights). A few years ago, he made somewhat of a forgotten and underappreciated film set in the Middle East in the midst of the War on Terror called The Kingdom.
With The Kingdom, Berg proved himself a more than capable action director. Its success likely led to him landing those previously mentioned, big budget, studio-action films that were not so well-received. With his new film, Berg returns to the kind of smaller-scale action film that better suits his cinematic style.
Lone Survivor tells the real-life story of the failed June 28, 2005 mission “Operation Red Wings,” where four members of U.S. Navy SEAL Team 10 were tasked to capture or kill notorious Taliban leader Ahmad Shahd. When their mission in a remote village is compromised by chance, they must rely on one another and their training to survive.
The film is based on the memoir by actual team member Marcus Luttrell, who is played by Mark Wahlberg in the film. The rest of the four man crew is rounded out by three of the young Hollywood’s most exciting names – Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch, and Taylor Kitsch. Eric Bana, Alexander Ludwig, and Jerry Ferrara round out the cast.
Wahlberg, minus his trademark tough-guy bravado and Boston accent, is solid, likable, and a bit more reserved than usual. Kitsch, as the commanding officer, finds his place in an ensemble much better than as the lead in his previous big budget duds (John Carter, Battleship). Hirsch continues to build on the promise he first showed in Into the Wild and Milk. And, as should be expected, Foster is probably the best of the bunch as he turns in yet another exceptional, unstated performance. In a movie where chemistry and brotherhood are so intrinsic, the actors truly convey it. They like each other, so, in turn, does the audience.
Most war movies are based, at least in part, on a true story, but few take this much pride and effort to truly honor those it is representing. Lone Survivor proves this from the opening credits – a powerful montage of real life Navy SEAL Team training. The film then does a more than adequate job of building the characters during the early exposition scenes before they are thrown into the fight – and what a fight it is. The middle third of the film is basically one long harrowing and brutally realistic gun fight.
The sound design of the film is engrossing and terrific, putting the audience right in the middle of the frantic shouts and gunfire. Berg cleverly uses the gunfire and explosions, as well as the silence in between, for maximum dramatic effect. He does get a little heavy-handed with slow-motion and swelling music, but the story has more than earned that. Ultimately, it is powerfully moving stuff.
Lone Survivor is a relentless barrage of tension and emotion; a symphony of bullets and valor, and overall powerful and fitting tribute to those who have served and/or given their life fighting for our country.
* * * * out of 5 stars
Lone Survivor opens in theaters nationwide on Friday, January 10 and locally at The Theatres at Canal Place, The Grand at Esplanade in Kenner, and all three AMC Palace theatres (Elmwood, Westbank, and Clearview).
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