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Movie Review: Lone Survivor
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Lone Survivor
Director: Peter Berg
Screenwriter: Peter Berg
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster, Eric Bana
Universal Pictures
Rated R | 121 Minutes
Release Date: January 10, 2014

“Live to tell the story.”

Written and directed by Peter Berg (Battleship, Friday Night Lights), Lone Survivor is based on the 2007 nonfiction book by Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson.

Set during the War in Afghanistan, in the Pech District of Afghanistan’s Kunar Province, the film tells the story of the failed United States Navy SEALs mission Operation Red Wings, in which four SEAL teammates were tasked to capture or kill Taliban leader Ahmad Shah (Yousuf Azami).

Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, and Ben Foster star as SEALs Marcus Luttrell, Michael Murphy, Danny Dietz, and Matt ‘Axe’ Axelson, respectively. Their commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Erik Kristensen, is portrayed by Eric Bana.

The SEALs are tasked with surveillance and reconnaissance of a village used by Shah and the Taliban. The SEALs’ mission is quickly compromised, however, when they are ambushed by an army of soldiers. It isn’t a spoiler to say that Luttrell, who wrote the book the film is based on, is the sole survivor of this failed mission – the point of the film isn’t who survives, but rather the camaraderie of the four men, their bravery, and their sacrifice.

Lone Survivor is a brutal, unrelenting war film in the mold of Black Hawk Down – a grisly, harrowing, hyper-intense depiction of the horrors of war. While Berg’s film isn’t so discreet in delivering its themes of patriotism, courage, and sacrifice, there is more than enough raw, emotional power in Lone Survivor to overcome the film’s jingoistic foibles and create an unshakeable experience.

I’m struggling to think of a war film as nerve-wracking or ultra-violent. The violence in Lone Survivor is absolutely heartbreaking – it doesn’t glorify or glamorize war – it’s a shock to the system, even to those desensitized by years of watching explicit films.

There are solid performances by Wahlberg, Kitsch, Hirsch, and scene-stealer Ben Foster. Wahlberg reportedly gave up half of his paycheck to ensure the actor was in the film – and that investment was worth every penny. You’ve seen Foster here and there – Alpha Dog, X-Men: The Last Stand, 3:10 to Yuma, The Messenger – but it seems like the underrated actor is about to catch his big break. Foster’s next project will be playing Lance Armstrong in a yet-to-be-titled biopic.

Still, despite some great performances, Lone Survivor could have been a better film if tackled by a director like Joe Carnahan (The Grey) instead of the guy responsible for Battleship. The script, also written by Berg, suffers from pacing issues and while the action scenes are tense and gut-wrenching, the in-between moments are simultaneously hollow and heavy-handed.

I am, however, surprised by just how competent of a film Lone Survivor is. It isn’t Apocalypse Now – a philosophical meditation on war -– nor is it a sweeping historical epic like Saving Private Ryan. Lone Survivor is all about the bond between its band of brothers – a respectful tribute to those who pushed past their limits and gave the ultimate sacrifice.

Trailer

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