Lone Survivor

Lone Survivor photo starrating-1andahalfstars.jpgLone Survivor is the depiction of a United States maneuver during the War in Afghanistan in 2005. Labeled Operation Red Wings, a group of Navy SEALs are tasked to capture or kill high ranking Taliban leader Ahmad Shah. The story is based on Marcus Luttrell’s 2007 book about the failed mission. First let’s address the elephant in the room. I’d be hard pressed to name a more spoiler heavy title than Lone Survivor. It’s a pretty efficient buzzkill. There’s Death of Salesman perhaps, but then that play had so much more to offer intellectually. We’re introduced to a team of four Navy SEALs played by Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster. Right from the start there’s this nagging feeling that we probably shouldn’t get too attached to at least three of these guys.

This is a pretty simple plot. Four guys go in. Only one comes out. Basically everything that can go wrong, does go wrong. Director Peter Berg (Battleship) never met a bullet going through flesh that he didn’t want to film in slow motion. The death of Ben Foster’s character is particularly gruesome. As he’s gasping for breath, blood pouring out, we watch as he is hit not once, not twice but three shots with grisly brutality. A veritable pastiche of sound effects highlights detonations, guns shooting, bullets whizzing by. Several scenes show soldiers tumbling down the side of a mountain. This tableau is repeated several times in fact. Their bodies somersaulting like rag dolls with bones crunching against every rock along the way in glorious sonic clarity. In one of the production’s quieter moments, Wahlberg performs surgery on his leg with a knife.

Lone Survivor is a weird mix of jingoism and “war is hell” mentality. The opening crawl of actual training footage feels like a military recruitment film, but then the senseless escalating body count screams otherwise. Our team of four Navy SEALs are robust models of tough American masculinity. Their male bonding, rah-rah, “let’s go kick some Taliban butt” mindset is occasionally interrupted by exclamations of “Muthaf–ka!” and “F–k You!” For the second half, it’s seemingly the only words they know as the action is mainly punctuated by the sound of bodies exploding while bullets pierce their skulls in blood splattering detail. The soundtrack has the audacity to play the quietly solemn beats of a noble drum march in the background as if that makes all the carnage more meaningful. There are admittedly two examples where expectations are subverted and humanity is displayed. In those minutes, we realize what this picture could have been. Then it’s back to bloody business as usual. In the end, the overriding conclusion is that Operation Red Wings was a tragic waste of life and this movie is a tragic waste of time.

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26 Responses to “Lone Survivor”

  1. I am the Lone Commentor!!!!

    No, but really. This is making me seriously think twice about this one because i have heard from others about some particuarly grisly violent parts. The comparisons to Saving Private Ryan must be only in regards to the graphic deaths??

    Great review man.

    • Good heavens! Who is comparing this to Saving Private Ryan? That’s about as fitting as comparing Showgirls to All About Eve.

      • The initial wave of previews have some critical praise during the beginning. I was kind of taken aback by how premature that seemed to be of a judgment call. This film is not even out now, how could it be a classic? By the sounds of it, it’s not even close! lol

  2. GaryLee828 Says:

    Well, I don’t know if it’s a waste of time; I personally don’t care to see this one, but the real-life “lone survivor” felt it was important for this story to be told, and that the 3 fallen soldiers were remembered, etc. I don’t like all the excessive bad language, either, but that’s probably true to the story as many soldiers use that kind of language. I will most likely not watch this one unless I happen to catch it on TV one day and I’m bored.

    • This film is a disservice to the brave men that gave their lives for their country. Their story deserved a much better film. Read the book to honor them and skip this.

      • Mark,
        With all do respect, but what do you know about the brotherly bond those warriors have? The real life “lone survivor” was extremely involved in the making of this film. You really should show some compassion for real life tragedy and sacrifice.

      • For the real life tragedy and sacrifice I have the utmost compassion. I’m reviewing the film which did not honor these men with respect. It was just violent scenes of bodies being riddled with bullets. Where was the humanity? I found the insensitive handling of what they went through quite offensive actually.

  3. Good review Mark. It was a lot less hokier than I expected it to be, which is saying something considering this is Peter Berg we are talking about here. Still though, he keeps things small, brutal, realistic and altogether, very unrelenting in the way that he doesn’t shy-away from the ugliness, but doesn’t over-do it either.

  4. Guess I won’t be seeing this one!

  5. After seeing about 5 great movies, in a row, this was disappointing. I usually like true stories like this, but it was just ok. I didn’t like how the seals could knock out so many Taliban soldiers with one shot, but each seal could be shot many times and still operate. Not very realistic. I also didn’t need all the gore. Not needed with a good story. 2 /2 stars.

    • This movie taught me that the skin of a U.S. soldier is a lot tougher than that of a Taliban soldier. That’s why it takes 4x the bullets to take one down. Total propaganda.

  6. nice review Mark. haven’t seen this one. i usually give Mark Wahlberg movies a chance, but based on your review, seems that this movie is awful. am also not too fond of those slow motion graphic violence.

    • Which of Wahlberg’s movies did you enjoy most this year? 2 Guns, Pain and Gain or Broken City?

      • martin250 Says:

        unfortunately, i was disappointed with those 3. but i guess 2 Guns would be the first choice.
        favored films of Wahlberg would be Boogie Nights, Rockstar, The Other Guys, and even Fear.

  7. hmmm i thought this film was very lame and really made luttrell’s story very shallow. it didn’t dive into the many themes it could have. far too simple

    • There was that moment where they discussed what to do about the goat herders. That raised some interesting issues. Unfortunately most of the film was just people getting shot.

  8. I had hoped that the advertising would have us believe Wahlberg is NOT The Lone Survivor, but I highly doubt that’s the case. Still, wish I didn’t read those details on Foster’s death :(… He’s one of my favorite actors working today so I wanted to go see this just for him. But Berg seems to ruin the premise with just too much of too much. Such a shame. There was a lot of Oscar talk about this film well before it’s release. I now understand why the studio never pushed for it in a campaign. I’ll still rent it though! Thanks for saving me $10.

    • I over emphasized my frustration with the “spoiler” title for comedic effect in my review. Knowing that there is one lone survivor doesn’t really ruin the ending. Who survives and who doesn’t, really isn’t the point. Honestly, I don’t actually understand the point. I think director Peter Berg wants to portray the account in a respectful way that honors these fallen men. Unfortunately the story doesn’t really unfold that way.

  9. I don’t know if anyone actually pointed this out or not but Foster was shot once in the head earlier and once again against the tree after two shots hit the tree (the Taliban has poor marksmanship!) Yeah this is a terrible film for all of the reasons you suggest and more…

    • Yes the “Taliban has poor marksmanship” while a U.S. soldier apparently only needs 1 bullet to do the same work.

      On another note: Her and August: Osage County open wide this weekend as well. Both are well worth seeing.

      • I saw AUGUST OSAGE COUNTY back in early December and enjoyed it immensely – might see again. Saw HER Thursday night and loved loved loved it; added it to my top 10 – which meant something had to move… :/ I would see that again in a heartbeat

      • Yeah Her was a great film. Made my Top 10 as well.

  10. That is a well written and scathing review. 🙂

    I don’t love this one either, but nor do I hate it quite as much as you do.

    • So I saw this a month ago and didn’t even give it a second thought. Now it’s come out and it’s the #1 movie. I don’t hate the movie, but the way people are worshipping this virtually plotless film is a little bewildering. Oh well, to each his own.

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