LONE SURVIVOR (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 1 minute

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Bloody War Violence and Pervasive Language

LS poster

Directed by: Peter Berg

Written by: Peter Berg

(based on the book LONE SURVIVOR by Marcus Luttrell & Patrick Robinson)

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster & Eric Bana

Based on the failed Operation Red Wings mission, LONE SURVIVOR joins a select group of movies that also includes THE HURT LOCKER and ZERO DARK THIRTY. It’s a war movie, but one set around the more recent military activity in the Middle East. The film is an all-around uplifting story about courage in the face of near-certain death and the will to survive.

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Marcus Luttrell (Wahlberg), Michael Murphy (Kitsch), Danny Dietz (Hirsch), and Matthew Axelson (Foster) make up the four Navy SEALs assigned the task of killing terrorist Ahmad Shah. Shah is a known Taliban leader responsible for the deaths of 20 Americans in the space of the previous week. At first, the mission appears to be going well. There are some glitches with the communications equipment, but everything else is going smoothly. The objective is close to completion and things suddenly spiral out of control. A couple of innocent civilians (two children and an elderly man) stumble across the four soldiers. The tough moral decision of either killing the bystanders or letting them go, ends with the soldiers releasing them unharmed. This compromises their location to the Taliban and the band of brothers do everything they can to survive until rescue comes (which may take a long time due to malfunctioning communications).

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The opening of the film showcases cast and crew credits being run over a montage of real footage of Navy SEALs boot camp training. This can be seen as a little cheesy by some, but it immediately displayed the rigorous training these men go through. There is a significant portion of the story that is dedicated to character development and it vastly works in the film’s favor. Everybody is relatable in some way. Even when the tough debate about the important decision that could wind up killing all four men is being shown, I understood where both sides were coming from and cared about these people (even more so, because apparently the film is very accurate to the real story).

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As far as the film’s portrayal of Muslims goes, things are very well-balanced. Not all Muslims are terrorists and there is a conscious effort to show that the villagers are equally victims of the Taliban. Another wise decision on the filmmaker’s part was not adding subtitles to everything said by the villagers or the terrorists. This leaves the viewer just as confused as the soldiers stuck in this unfamiliar territory. The scenes of combat ratcheted up the tension and kept me off guard to where the next attack would come from. This is a brutal movie and the violence is hard to watch. As it should, the gritty realistic style distinctly demonstrated the horrors of war. Annoying shaky camera work was employed occasionally and nearly caused some almost headache inducing moments. These don’t make up a majority of the film though and didn’t detract too much from the experience overall.

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One of the storytelling techniques was the overused cliché of starting the film with a crucial scene that takes place in the near the final moments. Then a title card pops up (in this case: Three Days Earlier) and the 95% of the film is told previous to what we’ve just seen. This means that the viewer knows well in advance who the title lone survivor is. It doesn’t spoil things to a high degree and I am aware that this film is based on a true story. The tension would have been raised to the max if the film had a straight-forward narrative and the film would have been even more affective by the powerful monologue in the conclusion.

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LONE SURVIVOR is a realistic film about the bravery and sacrifice of men who fought for their country. The performances are rock solid. The scales are balanced on how people in the Middle East are portrayed and never dips into negative stereotypes. This is an intense and powerful experience that’s well worth your time!

Grade: A

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