Director: Peter Berg Writer: Peter Berg (screenplay), Marcus Luttrell & Patrick Robinson (book) Actors: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster Runtime: 121 min Rating: R
The cinema space is often crowded with romance flicks and sci-fi adventures, films that generally bring out the masses. Occasionally, we get treated to the odd war film. Getting a film within that genre to resonate with all audiences in this day and age is quite difficult due to a number of elements. Peter Berg’s Lone Survivor goes past the difficulties and into the territory of success.
Lone Survivor is based on a book co-authored by Marcus Luttrell, a former United States Navy SEAL. The story focuses around the events of June 28th, 2005, when four members of SEAL Team 10, including Luttrell, were dropped into Afghanistan to capture or kill notorious Taliban leader Ahmad Shah. When their location is compromised, they find themselves in a massive gun fight with Shah’s Taliban forces, also within Taliban-controlled territory.
Creating a war film, especially in the present day, is a bit of a challenge. How does one focus on war without screaming out patriotism? How can one focus on the story without making it sound like a recruitment film? Berg has taken Luttrell’s personal story and created a film that doesn’t necessarily focus on the American military, but more so on elements that bond soldiers together: brotherhood, respect, honour, and sacrifice. He has taken these elements and applied them to the universal definition of a soldier, which makes the adapted story quite interesting.
One element that is truly successful is this film’s cinematography. First off, war is given a very close-up look. In films such as Black Hawk Down and Saving Private Ryan, one understands the pain of the characters while also experiencing the background elements. In Lone Survivor, the camera is focused on the soldiers, both the good and the bad. The experience becomes very personal because one can now see what these soldiers are experiencing and vaguely deduce what is occuring in their heads. Additionally, the combat sequences are not trivial or exaggerated. One of the often recognized faults of a terribly executed war film is that the soldier is given the camera-perfect death. Here, while still keeping the concept of heroism existent, the direction focuses on raw combat elements, including gun shot wounds, concussions and delusions caused by explosives, psychological imbalances brought about by physical damage, etc. Therefore, death is treated precisely how it is in war. The fire fight doesn’t become a cliché: one between bad guys and heros. Rather, the fire fight is literally soldier versus soldier, giving each of the battle scenes an authentic look.
The performances in Lone Survivor are quite good. Each actor does justice to their character, and seeing an actor such as Eric Bana back in a war film, his last major film being Black Hawk Down, is certainly a treat. Mark Wahlberg does a good job portraying Marcus Luttrell, capturing the insecurities and pain a soldier feels in a hostile and very-far-away-from-home territory. Foster, Kitsch, and Hirsch all do a great job of portraying their characters as well. One can sense their respect towards the characters they are playing, mostly through their interactions with one another. It’s a joy to see an actor embrace a difficult character, especially one that isn’t fictional, and to be able to deliver a memorable performance for the audience to soak up. There was also another character in the film that was rather special; I’ll leave it to you to figure out who that is without spoiling it for you.
One element that we often overlook when it comes to films is the stunt work. Lone Survivor features some of the most daring stunts on film. Some of the sequences are so intense, one cringes as they are playing out on screen. The film has been nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture, and it is no surprise why. Once one sees what the film delivers and then learns about what was done to make the action sequences a reality, one realizes that these are real people doing the real deal to make the film as authentic as possible, and it makes all the difference in the world.
Lone Survivor is by no means a perfect film. There are things that could have been improved, including the pace of the storyline and development of some of the characters. However, this film does achieve what it sets out to do. More than creating just a film, Berg has crafted a tribute to the fallen soldiers of Operation Red Wings. An audience gets the message of patriotism, of course, but as mentioned before, this film focuses on the bond between soldiers, no matter what side you are on. It is a raw representation of war and clearly achieves what it sets out to do.
The ending contains something very special, something you just don’t see in films or in general war related news. Recommendation: Stay till the very end.