Monday, 24 February 2014

Lone Survivor: Movie Review

Lone Survivor: Movie Review

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster, Eric Bana
Director: Peter Berg

The pantheon of war movies is littered with many attempts to show the bravado and courage of those under fire - but who are usually triumphant.

Lone Survivor sets out to do some of that - partially.

It's the story of the ill-fated mission Operation Red Wings, in which a four man US Navy Seal team were dispatched to the Afghanistan hills to capture or kill notorious al Qaeda leader Ahmad Shahd in June 2005.

But things go wrong when the quartet encounter a group of goat herders who may or may not be affiliated to the al Qaeda presence in the village below....Soon, all four of them, including Marcus Luttrell (played by a beefed up Mark Wahlberg), are fighting for survival, with no idea if help will be coming from their colleagues back at the base.

Lone Survivor is a brutal and brutalising piece of cinema - it's an unflinching look at a side of war rarely glimpsed.

However, with the troops under fire, all chances of characterisation are out of the window as the banter between the four simply resorts to an f-bomb every few words. Director Peter Berg is hardly interested in that though, given that he starts the movie with snapshots of the training that the SEALS undergo, and the bond that forms as they are broken or complete the training.

An initial sequence on a base gives some moments of insight into the SEAL lifestyle - worries over weddings, colour schemes for rooms at home, and whether to buy a horse or not and allow a newbie to join their ranks, but they're swiftly dispatched for a more visual and bone-crunching experience as the fire fight begins. A major kernel of interest - the morality of troop behaviour in war and during contact - is also jettisoned at a time when characters could have risen to the fore; it's a shame as Berg drops the one narrative ball that could have been much more.

While Berg's crafted something that collects together the horror of being pinned under fire and a situation many of us will never experience as well as the courage of the men under attack, he would have benefited from a slightly more subtle approach in places. Lingering close ups are a little too heavy handed - one on the paint scheme floating away from one of the Navy Seals after he's shot could have done with more subtlety - granted, with the story being taken from Luttrell's book, there's little wriggle room for him to manoeuvre outside of the fight sequences, which are visceral, bone-crunching and claustrophobic.

Inevitably a massive fire fight erupts at the end (which is apparently at odds with the reality of what actually happened) - perhaps it's the jingoistic release which was needed after such a downbeat portrayal of combat.

However, an opening sequence which shows Luttrell being choppered off should have been jettisoned; most will be unaware of the circumstances of this mission and a little uncertainty would have made the ride even more edge of your seat kind of cinema. Instead, that spoiler robs the movie of the tension it could have benefited from.

Overall, Lone Survivor represents a truly grim war time experience, but a chance to see a side of combat rarely glimpsed on the big screen. A final montage of the actual troops who were involved in the mission is nothing more than an attempt to be mawkish manipulation and while it's powerful stuff, it's more likely to resonate with those still in the armed forces and those in awe of the courage of others.


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