By Jacob Montgomery (Texas)
Sometimes, films based on a true story have major obstacles to overcome. For example, the film’s title and the opening scene flat out say what’s going to happen. Wringing out suspense and drama on a film we know the ending too can be an exceptionally daunting task, but the filmmakers manage to do it well.
Based on the true story, this film follows the failed Operation Red Wings mission, where 4 NAVY Seals (played by Mark Walberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster) were sent to track and kill the Taliban leader Ahmad Shah in Afghanistan. The film usually manages to be honorable in its portrayal of the men. The film wisely did not portray the men as perfect, they are human, but we still want to see them get through it, even though we know some of them won’t survive. This makes for an excellent tribute to all those who died in this failed mission.
The film’s unrelenting brutality is sometimes a chore to sit through, but that’s exactly the point. Even though the film once again relays the message we’ve seen many times before that war is a hellacious ordeal, this film sets out to show what an ordeal it was for these men in particular, which is fine because war is going to be different for every single person.
Peter Berg is a director with a very hit and miss track record (or so I’ve been told, I’ve only seen one of his previous films, the terribly misguided 2012 train wreck, Battleship). While Berg usually does a good job here, he does make a few big mistakes that prevent Lone Survivor from being a masterpiece. For example, Lone Survivor occasionally overuses the shaky cam, which does make it unintelligible for brief periods of time. He also indulges in jingoism a few times, particularly in the beginning, and the action is occasionally too sensationalistic, to the point where it does become tiring. For example, the death scenes involving the fallen comrades, while not done poorly, are dragged on for too long. I can understand not wanting to unceremoniously killing them off, but the slow motion and symbolism-heavy images are a little too bombastic for my taste.
However, those problems aside, the film is a very well made war film. Any factual inconsistencies are irrelevant to me, because the film itself is accurate on many levels, and the artistic licenses are done to tighten the script, while still managing to get the point of the real life story across. If you worry about the artistic liberties, I would say you could look up the real story, or even read the book.
The film also manages to succeed because of the stellar performances. Everyone does an outstanding job here, there’s not a bad actor amongst the ensemble, and there is a strong sense of camaraderie that is hard to capture. But the one who stands out the most is Mark Walberg’s devastating performance as the titular Marcus Luttrell. With every move he makes, you can feel the pain of the character, and by extension, the real life people.
Lone Survivor is not the masterpiece it sets out to be, but it is a very well crafted war film, that understands the pain of war. However, above all, the film is an exemplary dedication to the people who died. And I can’t give the film a better praise than that.