The smell of smoking guns. The heat from nearby explosions. The excruciating pain of feeling a bullet pierce your skin. The screams of fallen comrades struggling to push on two more steps. The crunching of dry foliage as enemy soldiers circle your position. The feeling of absolute, isolated helplessness as every single second becomes a struggle for survival. These are experiences most of us will never deal with, or begin to even pretend to comprehend, yet they become a daily occupational hazard for those men and women brave enough to pursue military careers. Some movies fail to embrace the honor, courage, brotherhood (sisterhood), and pride that goes into being an American soldier, while other films embody their incomprehensible spirit.
Despite your political beliefs that dictate whether you approve of a war like the one in Afghanistan, the fact still remains that everyday people sacrifice their own lives so you don’t have to. Lone Survivor understands that, paying respect to Operation Red Wings in visual form thanks to star Mark Wahlberg and writer/director Peter Berg. Cue the soaring bald eagles, screeching fighter jets, fireworks, and waving American flag – it’s time to get your patriotism on.
Militaristic feats of strength usually tend to make for blood-pumping cinema, but when the story being told on screen is true, another layer of humanity is added. The story of Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg) and his Seal Team 10 squad details a failed mission that should have ended with capturing or killing notorious Taliban leader Ahmad Shahd – not numerous American casualties. Luttrell, Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch), and Matt Axelson (Ben Foster) were the soldiers tasked with identifying Ahmad Shahd, but instead they found their location discovered and the mission compromised. With minimal outside contact and Taliban forces surrounding them on all sides, the Seals have no choice but to engage the enemy and secure extraction – with one wrong move spelling death.
Lone Survivor isn’t just pro-America pornography, though. These were real people – real fathers, real husbands, real friends – not fantasy characters created in some writer’s head. Sure, this isn’t the first time we’ve witnessed a heroic soldier’s tale be told on screen, but writer/director Peter Berg focuses on developing Seal Team 10 as people before warriors, packing more of an emotional punch than just sending soldiers into battle.
This of course is perpetuated by the dynamite cast of Wahlberg, Foster, Kitsch, and Hirsch, who all pull double duty to deliver strong performances in the heat of battle. I’ve always been partial to Foster’s acting style myself, as his sometimes cold demeanor lends itself to a stronger presence even when vocalization is at a minimum, but Mark Wahlberg is the key for Peter Berg’s adaptation, playing the lead role of Marcus Luttrell, whose bravery and luck permitted the mission’s only survivor to carry on the story of his fallen brothers. It’s always hard to commend acting prowess in military films such as Lone Survivor, because the dramatics are more gut reactions to loud noises, but every soldier felt genuine, especially our leading foursome. These Seals aren’t unfamiliar characters, but they’re deserving of our sympathy and investment, even with their fates sealed by Luttrell’s book.
Peter Berg also captures the absolute chaos of war, providing fight sequences that fly by in a fervor of whizzing bullets and angry tangos. For a film titled Lone Survivor, we sure grasp how alone our soldiers are, facing mounting odds and heavy artillery. The pace speeds along but never becomes too dizzying or unwatchable. Some directors utilize too many shaky camera techniques to “recreate” the intensity of war and viewers are left trying to focus on images that are flying about the screen with little clarity. Peter Berg avoids said hyperspeed, thankfully, and delivers short, concise, strategic action that fits military protocol, marrying tactical survival techniques with running and gunning, heart-pounding action.
If true stories don’t do much for your emotional empathy, Lone Survivor might just be another wooden soldier, but I believe there’s much more to Marcus Luttrell’s tale. His astonishing bout of unflinching courage in the face of death speaks volumes for the military lifestyle itself, paying tribute to those not as lucky. Luttrell’s voice represents those who no longer have one, and what facing real problems entails. If I have a bad day at work, the worst that happens to me is I get fired. I pack my things up, walk out the door, and look for a new job. If you have a bad day in the military – there is no going home afterwards.
I know these sentiments are nothing new in the world of military movies, but unlike some films of the same nature, Lone Survivor is a gripping, powerful journey that’s equal parts explosive action and gut-wrenching drama. The true story Peter Berg adapts provides enough non-stop intensity as it is, but through a pace that relentlessly puts Mark Wahlberg and his accompanying actors in a harrowing fight for their lives, Berg is able to create a red, white, and blue classic along the lines of Black Hawk Down. Marcus Luttrell and those who lost their lives in Operation Red Wings deserve to have their story told, and Peter Berg does so with respect, honor, and pure patriotism – while still making an entertaining movie. Credit the phenomenal ensemble cast, credit the moving story, but most importantly, credit Lone Survivor for being an edge-of-your-seat tribute to true, deserving American heroes.
Maybe the true story of Marcus Luttrell's astounding survival is blinding me with patriotism, but I firmly believe that Lone Survivor pays proper tribute to many deserving souls through entertaining, respectful filmmaking.