Fact-based tale of Navy Seal Marcus Luttrell (played by Mark Wahlberg), the only American survivor of an Afghanistan mission gone wrong and leading to the deaths of 19 soldiers at the hands of Taliban forces.
Dir. Peter Berg
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster, Eric Bana, Ali Suliman
Review By Greg Klymkiw
It is virtually impossible to NOT be deeply moved seeing the deaths of 19 young American soldiers, but it's probably not for the reasons intended by the filmmakers. They want us to experience the honour and sacrifice made by these clearly brave young men. They want us to revel in the glory of their service to America, their deep camaraderie and their unwavering commitment to keep fighting to the death in the face of insurmountable odds.
This is what the filmmakers want and sadly, from many audiences, they'll get it.
What will move (I hope) most thinking, feeling people is how utterly senseless the deaths of these young men were (and by extension, ALL soldiers and civilians on both sides of the equation that is Afghanistan, and for that matter, the entire reprehensibly spurious War on Terror). Watching this picture we are pummelled by the utter futility of the mission these men were ordered to fulfill and the clear screw-ups on every level by the American command. We see this, but the movie takes no moral, political, thematic or, frankly, even dramatic position on this. There's a cursory nod to "war is Hell", but if the film takes any stance at all it is to extoll the virtues of the American tolerance for pain, hardship and death at any and all cost to themselves.
The movie's sole narrative purpose is to send the boys on a mission to assassinate a Taliban military leader who - HORRORS!!! - has killed many Marines and then to view how everything that could go wrong, indeed does. It's the war film equivalent to The Passion of the Christ. We know during the film's opening five minutes and from the title, that everyone in the film will die except one. All that seems necessary to spin the tale forward is when our soldiers make the right, but fateful decision not to kill civilian goat herders. This results in one of the lucky-to-be-spared Afghanis ratting out the presence of the Yanks to the Taliban armed forces.
Our brave American lads are quickly surrounded, then assailed by an unbeatable extremist Muslim juggernaut of strength and numbers. We spend about one hour of screen time watching the soldiers take repeated bullet-hits and incur rips, gashes, scratches, bruises and broken bones - many of the jutting-out-through-flesh variety.
The damage done to Uncle Sam's boys pretty much puts them in the hallowed position of equalling Jesus H. Christ Almighty's scourging, ascent to Calvary and brutal crucifixion.
As luck would have it, we experience a panoply of Taliban deaths so excessive that one suspects the Americans are responsible for the wholesale slaughter of a good chunk of Afghanistan itself. The blows to our American boys are treated with savagery by director Peter Berg, but savagery with indelible strength and honour. The Taliban, however, are dispatched by our boys with slam-bang, blood-spurting aplomb - all designed for us to cheer as if Rocky Balboa is scoring blows against Drago in Rocky IV.
Ah, but lest we forget, our American boys are flesh and blood. They have hopes, dreams, loves, wives, children and homes. According to this film, Afghanis do not. They are nameless, often faceless hordes of heathen who deserve spectacularly painful deaths for OUR edification.
At times this whole exercise is sickening.
However, director Berg and his long-time cinematographer Tobias Schleissler render dazzling visual flourishes to the violence. It's all so simply and classically structured, not unlike the pair's fine work on Battleship, in spite of its ludicrous screenplay, that we are witness to work of an exemplary nature. Berg knows how to stage action and in collaboration with Schleissler, still manages to dazzle us in ways that most contemporary filmmakers are woefully unable to do.
Aside from Eric Bana's sleepwalking impersonation through the film, there isn't a single cast member who delivers anything less than superb work and, in the case of Wahlberg, he's electrifying. It's also great seeing Ali Suliman, the great Israeli actor of Palestinian descent (he recently starred in The Attack and he's pretty much the only Afghani allowed something resembling a character. This is probably because Suliman's part is that of an anti-Taliban member of the Muslim persuasion.
Lone Survivor is one of the most reprehensible pieces of American war propaganda foisted upon us in quite awhile, but it's impossible to deny the craft and downright virtuosity of its filmmakers. As a director, Berg is the real deal. The man knows how to make a movie and dazzle us, but one wonders if he'll ever allow us a peek into his soul. Then again, maybe he doesn't have one.
"Lone Survivor" is in wide release from Universal Pictures.