Although modern war is loaded with the inherent bullshit of political and corporate incentive there's an undeniable and quite profound omnipresent fact; those who serve live at the physical peak face the crippling mental weight of being on the razor's edge between life and death. Writer/director Peter Berg casts an admirable but harsh eye over U.S Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell's true tale of survival that acknowledges the struggles of combat in the presence of Orwellian media and the perilous life of civilians in the vice between Taliban and U.S forces.
On a reconnaissance mission in the mountains of Afganistan a quartet of Navy SEALs, Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch), Matt 'Axe' Axelson (Ben Foster), find themselves at the mercy of a hundreds of Taliban fighters. With terrain almost as hazardous as their opponents they must do what they can to survive.
There's no doubt that Berg's in awe of the sacrifice of those who serve in the U.S armed forces, particularly the elite units. The opening of the film features a documentary flurry outlining some of the intense feats of physical and mental toughness required to even be considered for recruitment. There doesn't feel like there's any intention to portray an ethereal or poetic perspective. Berg's (and clearly the subject material) in it for the bone crushing and blood curdling reality of combat. The stunt work, integrated with the performers getting amongst it, will make you cringe as the each frenzied skirmish ups the ante. Berg gives you the necessary time with the characters in the prologue of the film to paint the picture of the 'professional' soldier. War is work; and these men are 'all-rounders.' However, like any young professional, they're intent to check in with their loved ones back home and attempt to attain all the trimmings of civilian life. Berg also shows you the additional awareness required when a decision in the trenches, so to speak, can end up plastered all over CNN. It's an illuminating prospect and a great talking point that there's an additional moral consideration of public opinion back home. Luttrell's story does drop you into the unexpected when Afghani civilians become critical to his survival. Berg appropriately lavishes the same adoration on their bravery as he does the American soldiers.
The major flaw for me was that this tale was told in 'flash back.' The tension was immediately deflated knowing who said 'survivor' was from the outset of the film. The pinnacle moments for each of the companions on the journey could have carried a heftier emotional weight if the outcome had not been predetermined.
The performances from the central four men are equally great. Foster has an uncanny ability to feel authentic in the skin of any character and Matt 'the Axe' is no exception. The intelligence, the cold calculation but the calm that with every mission he may not return allows you to get into his headspace. Hirsch had been at a saturation point for some time but it's nice to see him slot into this crew supporting as Danny. He's looking up to his clearly more senior counterparts, desperate to prove himself.
Kitsch crushes as Michael Murphy. He's an impressive, alpha specimen but with a no nonsense, likeable quality. Although he's clearly the top dog, he's got an empathic streak in his aura so that he's as tangible asking for advise on his fiancé's pricy wedding present as he is cramming dirt into a seeping stomach wound. Wahlberg delivers a sensational performance in Lone Survivor. The last role that I was blown away by from him came in The Perfect Storm. There was a physical fragility that permeated through his fast talking bravado that hasn't been present at all in the films that he's serving on as a producer. With Lone Survivor, the pressure comes in having to do justice to the living man he's portraying and wrestling with his brothers demise and plethora of moral quandaries he must tussle with along the way.
Lone Survivor is writer/director Peter Berg's best to date, Wahlberg and co. are at the top of their game but unfortunately not burying the lead on the outcome deflates each increasingly amazing (and true-ish) turn of this tale.
[rating=3] and a half
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Peter Berg Written by: Peter Berg (based on the the book by Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson) Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster, Yousuf Azami, Ali Suliman and Eric Bana
BLAKE HOWARD IS A FILM CRITIC & THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF/CO-FOUNDER OF AUSTRALIAN FILM BLOG GRAFFITI WITH PUNCTUATION . BLAKE IS THE HOST OF THE ONE HEAT MINUTE PODCAST. BLAKE IS ALSO A MEMBER OF THE PRESTIGIOUS ONLINE FILM CRITIC SOCIETY (AND A MEMBER OF THE GOVERNING COMMITTEE), IS A CO-HOST OF GAGGLE OF GEEKS ON SYDNEY'S 2SER COMMUNITY RADIO, A COLUMNIST AT THE AUSTRALIAN ONLINE INSTITUTION DARK HORIZONS AND SWAYS THE TOMATO METER WITH ROTTEN TOMATOES APPROVED REVIEWS.