Review – Lone Survivor

Lone Survivor Poster

On June 28, 2005, SEAL Team 10 embarked on Operation Red Wings.  The mission: take out a dangerous leader of the Taliban.  The result: disaster.

Based on the novel by SEAL Marcus Luttrell (portrayed by Mark Wahlberg) detailing his experience during Operation Red Wings, the film follows Luttrell and the other three members of his doomed team (Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, and Ben Foster) from start to finish of the mission.  Eric Bana and Alexander Ludwig also star.

As missions to take out dangerous Taliban leaders go, Operation Red Wings was supposed to be more or less straight forward, if a bit involved.  Transported to an insertion point, the team is to traverse some rough terrain, making their way to an undetected vantage point above the village where their target is located.  A mishap and judgment call with some civilians, however, brings the whole thing crashing down on their heads, putting the four of them in a desperate fight for their lives against seemingly insurmountable odds.

You’ve probably heard ads for this film, calling it the best of its kind since Saving Private Ryan.  High praise indeed for a war film.  Those reports are not exaggerated.  I would easily pass the torch to Lone Survivor as this generation’s Saving Private Ryan.  It is a brutal depiction of war and battle with an emotional core.  It does not shy away from the shear vicious gruesomeness of the battlefield.  Unlike Private Ryan, though, these are not fictional soldiers – a point that director Peter Berg is only so happy to drive home in a tear jerking finale.

Even Wahlberg as the most recognizable face is convincing as a hardened soldier, as all the actors bring a physicality and expertise to the parts that really sells the action.  Nothing feels fake.  The real Marcus Luttrell oversaw the film’s shooting in nearly its entirety and it shows.  These don’t feel like actors anymore, they feel like soldiers.  Multiple scenes reminiscent of a famous Homer Simpson pratfall down a mountain could have seemed goofy and out of place, but instead they are bone crunchingly, grimacingly real.  This is not a movie for the feint of heart, but one to serve a reminder of just what people put themselves through for the sake of their country.  Thankfully the film does not delve into politics or the debates surrounding the events of the film.  While the patriotism is little heavy handed at times, it is not a distraction as it plays second fiddle to the camaraderie of the soldiers and their literal fight to stay alive.  This is not a movie about a war, this is a movie about some soldiers.

Other than a few brief moments that threaten to romanticize or villainize certain acts or people, my biggest issue with this film is that the ending is handed to us before we even get started.  If the title didn’t already give it away, the opening scene will as it takes place at the end of the story.  I seriously wish I had been keeping track of all the films that did that this year because it certainly feels like a growing trend.  It can be useful sometimes, but most of the time it just takes away suspense and feels like a way to hook you when the filmmaker doesn’t think the actual beginning will do that job properly.  As it is, it’s no secret that Walhberg’s character survives and no on else does.  Duh.  I don’t even consider that a spoiler, considering everything.  While those familiar with the true story will know that already, the rest of the audience doesn’t and I think the movie could have been even more powerful and affecting had we not been resigned to the characters’ fates from the start.

That being said, this is a near perfect war film, powerful, exciting, gripping, and heart wrenching.  It doesn’t glorify the act of war and it shows just what a human being can push themselves to accomplish.  Having had a limited release last year, I can say that this is one of the best films of 2013.

Mrs. Hamster did not screen this film

My rating: Five out of five hats

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Trailer:

Lone Survivor battles 2,875 theaters, January 10