Title: Lone Survivor
Kind Of Gives Away The Ending, Doesn't It? Well, so does the book. And the 60 Minutes segment.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Three "Eye of the Tiger" singles out of five.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Four-man Navy SEAL recon team enters a world of shit.
Tagline: "Live to tell the story."
Better Tagline: "Never get involved in a land war in Asia."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: On June 28, 2005, four Navy SEALS were dropped into the Kunar Province of Afghanistan, tasked with the reconaissance of an area known to be frequented by Ahmad Shah, a leader of the local Anti-Coalition Militia. Discovered by local goatherds (whom the SEALS subsequently freed, in following with the rules of engagement at the time), the team were ambushed. Three of the team — Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Petty Officer Danny P. Dietz (Emile Hirsch) and Petty Officer Matthew G. Axelson (Ben Foster) — were killed, and Corpsman Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg) only survived because he was taken in and protected by friendly tribesman.
"Critical" Analysis: You've got one job when depicting the fate of soldiers who died in battle: get the facts right. Director Peter Berg, who in recent years has made quite a secondary career as a military fetishist, couldn't go too far off the reservation here. Luttrell is still alive, after all, and you probably don't want a former SEAL pissed off at you for making his dead buddies look bad.
So the good news is: The combat sequences in Lone Survivor are among the best on film since Black Hawk Down or Saving Private Ryan. Further, it's testament to the training of our military that four guys were able to hold off dozens of the enemy for a day-long running battle through unfamiliar territory.
You may not entirely buy Hirsch as a guy who passed B.U.D.S. training, or a 42-year-old Wahlberg as (then) 29-year old Luttrell, but you'll have a hard time denying the movie's impact. And whatever Berg's other faults, he's loyal to his guys, bringing Kitsch back even after the cowflop that was Battleship.
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More problematic was how Berg bookended the film with scenes as blatantly manipulative as any Lifetime movie. Showing the soldiers' camaraderie in the field is one thing: It fleshes out the characters and goes a long way to explain their cohesiveness when the bullets start flying. Showing a death reel of soldiers' families as the credits roll, on the other hand, is wholly disingenuous.
Similarly, the film opens with six minutes of SEAL training footage that comes across as needless chest thumping, especially considering the film itself is largely propaganda-free. At no point do any of the soliders question why they're there, or offer bitter opinions about the handling of a war they aren't winning. This largely undogmatic approach works quite well, which what makes the two scenes so off-putting. Berg seems to think we're incapable of comprehending the human toll of warfare unless he crams it down our throat.
Show up late and leave early, maybe. Because apart from that, Lone Survivor is a solid war movie that generally doesn't pull its punches and does a fine job of giving us an idea what that hellish day was like.
Lone Survivor is in limited release today, opening wide next month. I've also been told a frogman's money is as good as gold.