Monday, January 27, 2014

Movie Review: Lone Survivor

As a war film, Lone Survivor is a wildly successful action piece designed to simultaneously horrify and titillate the masses. It's when the film tries to be something greater that it transforms into a ham-fisted melodrama. When the movie clicks, it's a dazzling dose of high octane film making with moments of genuine emotion and sincerity. However, there are some laughably juvenile sequences sprinkled throughout that dampen it's otherwise kinetic pacing. Fear not, director Peter Berg doesn't achieve Michael Bay/Zack Snyder levelness of cheesiness in Lone Survivor, but he gets close.

Lone Survivor is the story of four Navy SEALs conducting a reconnaissance mission in the mountains of Afghanistan. Some pesky locals discover their position and place the team in a less than ideal situation. Release the civilians and run the risk of them alerting the enemy of their location, or kill them and be war criminals, ruining the Navy SEALs honor and long standing reputation. The SEALs release their captives and sure enough, are ambushed by hostile forces in a fierce mountain side battle.

Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster play the members of the SEAL team and deliver great performances all around. Even though Wahlberg is about ten years older than the rest of the cast, and it was a bit weird watching him take orders from Taylor Kitsch, he's the bonafide "star" of the film and is *SPOILER* (not the title brah), the lone survivor. In my humble opinion, it's Ben Foster who steals the show here. He puts a Doc Holiday-ish spin on his character that transforms him from badass to ridiculously badass. The bond between these characters is not only believable, but during the insane gun fights it borders on heartbreaking. I attribute this to the tremendous talents of the cast (yes I just praised Taylor Kitsch's acting skills), using their onscreen chemistry to propel the film...because the script alone sure as hell couldn't.

Peter Berg is lucky he cast strong leads and knows how to channel America's love of 80's action films, because the script he wrote and some of the mind numbingly cliched directorial choices he made on Lone Survivor almost ruined his film. First gripe, we don't know or care about the characters. We get brief, almost empty glances into their lives before we are suddenly thrust into Call of Duty: Mountain Ambush. The relationship between the SEALs would have felt totally forced if it wasn't for the A+ performances selling each scene. Next, the film's tacked on political commentary would have been funny if it wasn't laughably one dimensional. One could imagine Berg listening to the Team America theme song while doing push ups in the editing room screaming "FUCK YEAH!" with every head shot. I understand this is an adaptation of a book, and the author (a real SEAL...that sounds weird) didn't have time to wax philosophical with the dudes shooting bullets at his face, but watching faceless villains getting annihilated starts to get stale after a while. The epic battle between the "good" Afghan villagers who save Wahlberg and the "terrorists" is compelling, although it starts to feel like "magical negro" syndrome by the end.

Perhaps Lone Survivor's worst offense is shielding itself behind the "based on a true story" defense. The film opens with footage of legit Navy SEALS training and ends with images of the actual personnel who died during the real Operation Red Wings. It has been shown that the events depicted in this film have been greatly exaggerated, or grossly inaccurate...depending on your view. When you take away the forced sentiment that comes with these "true story aka real hero" movies, you're left with the a flawed film that might not have been detected otherwise. Make no mistake, Lone Survivor is a thoroughly entertaining action film, with great performances and some stunning cinematography. Maybe a more skilled director could have successfully taken the film beyond the confines of "action flick" like Berg so desperately aspires to, unfortunately, he falls short. 


  1. Looking forward to seeing this, good review and I think Foster is one of the better actors out there!

  2. spoiling the movie in the title is rather funny