Lone Survivor (2013)
Directed by Peter Berg
Somebody called it the best war movie since “Saving Private Ryan.” I don’t know about that. But “Lone Survivor” does tell a pretty compelling true story with amazing realism. There are two camps of war movies – those that rely more on action and those that rely more on story. Since the start of the 21st century, movies like “Black Hawk Down” have represented the action war movies, while movies like “The Hurt Locker” have cared more about the story, about the soldier experience, than about the shooting and explosions. “Lone Survivor” may not be quite as good as either, but what it might do better than both is strike a balance between telling a story without losing the excitement of constant action.
Operation Red Wings, in 2005, was a U.S. Navy SEAL mission sent to kill a high-ranking Taliban official. Four men, Marcus Latrell (Mark Wahlberg), Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitch), Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch), and Matt “Axe” Axelson (Ben Foster) are sent to the front lines to scope out the situation. When a group of goat herders blow their cover, and their strong morals compel the men to let the Afghans return to their village, an army of Taliban gunmen are quick to jump on their tails. What follows is a bloody gunfight and a true test of heroism that leaves four men to defend themselves against an army as they try to escape through the treacherous wilderness.
What “Lone Survivor” has going for it is a strong cast of actors who, after just 42 days of filming, are able to feign a brotherhood bonded over months. They have tremendous chemistry – it is most of what makes the story so easy to get invested in. And after three weeks of military training before filming, these guys look like they know what they’re doing. Even if they don’t, they look like it (and isn’t that all that matters?). The screenplay, adapted from Latrell’s account of the mission and nominated for a Writers Guild of America award, is full of vulgar, coarse language – they talk like soldiers, the way it should be. Ben Foster is such a cool dude. And Mark Wahlberg breaks out of his shell a little…okay, he still plays a hairier, more beat-up version of Mark Wahlberg, but he gives it a little more oomph.
Beautiful landscape shots of what turns out to be New Mexico (don’t let it ruin your belief that it was actually shot in Afghanistan) certainly contributes to the atmosphere. Silence pervades, allowing the tension to grow. The suspense builds, then the action follows.
I wouldn’t say it’s the best war movie since anything – I haven’t seen enough war movies to make my opinion on the subject very valid – but I would say that it’s worth seeing, especially if you can catch it in theaters. It is artfully filmed, brilliantly acted, and its stunt ensemble deserves the Screen Actors Guild award it won…wow. And even if the title and the trailer give most away of the plot, you’ll be amazed at how this true story made for the screen can captivate you.