It’s commonplace to say that every war movie is actually an anti-war movie, but that’s not really true. There are movies that glorify carnage and make bloody death look pretty. There are movies that present graphic violence in an erotic context. As the lines between video game and movie violence blur, as we become more and more inured to the first-person shooter perspective, it’s good to have movies like Peter Berg’s Lone Survivor to serve as a corrective.
This visceral and gut-wrenching film, based on events that took place in Afghanistan in 2005, involves four members of a Navy SEAL team (Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster and Emile Hirsch) who find themselves outnumbered and overmatched in Taliban territory when their intelligence fails. They are left with no option but to try to fight their way out, and - as the title telegraphs - it’s apparent most of them won’t make it.
The film is built around a protracted and extremely harrowing battle scene that seems to take place in real time (but is actually a compression of a day-long battle), with great attention paid to the spatial relationships between the besieged SEALs and their Taliban attackers. We are not spared the brutal consequences of metal tearing through flesh. We are not supposed to think that dying in battle is an inherently noble act. We are to sit and watch the slaughter, and marvel at the resiliency of humans under great stress and the genuine bonds that propel soldiers past the normal limits of human endurance.
The opening third of the movie is pretty standard Band of Brothers warrior class preface in which we are supposed to glean - from the cocky banter, alpha male swagger, and talk of girlfriends and wives back home - a character point or two about each of the men we’re going to watch get broken and blown apart. It’s not too long before we’re on a mountainside cut off from radio contact, looking at a lot more bad guys than we expected to find. Even in an age of high-tech warfare, the human element is prone to miscalculation, and “a lot of moving parts” means more chances for breakdown.
The performances are uniformly excellent, and New Mexico convincingly doubles for Afghanistan’s Korangal Valley.
Berg admirably refrains from making political points - there’s really no discussion on whether the SEALs should be prosecuting this mission; all they care about is that they’ve been given this mission - and his film keeps faith with its source material, Marcus Luttrell’s combat memoir of the same name. It is a somber and respectful movie that, maybe more than any film since Saving Private Ryan, tells something of the truth about war and the rough men who do hard things to keep us safe.
Lone Survivor 87 Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster, Eric Bana Director: Peter Berg Rating: R, for violence and language Running time: 121 minutes
MovieStyle, Pages 33 on 01/10/2014
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