Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster
Director: Peter Berg
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Features: See Review
Length: 122 Minutes
Release Date: June 3, 2014
“You can die for your country…I’m gonna live for mine.”
As pointed out in my recent review of Son of God, what I find to be reverential story material and what I find to be a top quality film are not always hand in hand. Lone Survivor turned out to be another example: this true tale of heroism under fire is the kind of story that inspires me to great applause. But as a film, it’s not quite the same.
It tells the story of Marcus Luttrell (Wahlberg), a Navy SEAL and a part of Operation Red Wings in Afghanistan. His experience became a best-selling book, and he himself has become a feature on many talk shows and interviews. As the title suggests (no giving away the ending here), he was the last man left alive after the mission went wrong.
He and three fellow SEALS are charged with scoping out an Afghan village and taking out a particularly bad Taliban terrorist leader and murderer. They find what seems like good positions to lay low and stake out the area, but the first bad sign is the increasingly poor radio reception they are getting from their home base.
When villagers inadvertently stumble on their position, the mission is compromised, and the men are left with one of those terrible but urgent choices in war…do they kill the villagers, and thus protect the mission? Do they tie them up and leave them to whatever fate awaits? Or do they let them go? In the War on Terror, the soldiers can never be sure who are the innocent and who are the enemy awaiting their terrible chance.
They let the villagers go, which turns out to be a mistake…soon, the four SEALS are engaged in an all-out firefight in the mountains of Afghanistan. They are surrounded. Their position is poor. They don’t have time to deal with their own wounds or to regroup for a better strategy. With all of those facts in play, it’s nothing short of a miracle that ANY of them survived.
Luttrell does indeed make it out, but partially thanks to a group of Afghan fighters who find him, and who are thankfully also against the Taliban. They risk their lives and their villages to save Luttrell.
This is a tremendous story of courage and of the brotherhood of soldiers. Where it lacks is simply as a cinematic experience. It doesn’t help that there have been many better movies dealing with similar subjects, such as Act of Valor, which used REAL Navy SEALS instead of actors, and Katherine Bigelow’s two masterpieces, The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. This film never quite seems to find an emotional center. Though Mark Wahlberg is very good in the title role, the movie seems lost between being a tribute film, a process film, and an action film, and as a result doesn’t quite succeed at any of them.
I definitely admire and appreciate the rare showings of true patriotism on screen, and this film definitely falls in that category. But it’s not the kind of picture I would tend to find my way back to…not when there are handful of other truly great ones to choose from.
This high definition transfer made me feel more like I was really experiencing Afghanistan than just about any other movie I could think of…this is not a world of desert, but of mountains and green terrain that makes fighting even more difficult. In some scenes, I would even go so far as to say “beautiful”, even though the danger is always apparent.
There is lots of fighting here, and the uncompressed surround track definitely does its job in making you feel like you are surrounded by the enemy. It is particularly dynamic, ranging from all-out war to the eerily quiet moments in between. My wife said it best…it’s actually the quiet moments and not the full-on gunfire that are the scariest moments.
There are six featurettes, including ones on the training for the actors, recreating the battle, tributes to the soldier and the Pashtun code in Afghanistan, making the movie, and a look at the actual heroes of Operation Red Wings…the last probably the most engaging.
Lone Survivor is a great American tale of heroism under fire, just not one of the better movies to depict it. Marcus Luttrell came home from the war with a true story worth telling; it’s only the film, and not the subject, that gives me cause to criticize.