Lone Survivor

2014-05-09 09:52
 
What it's about:

Navy Seal, Marcus Luttrell, and his team embark on a mission to capture or kill a Taliban terrorist leader but their mission is soon compromised as a group of mountain herders happen upon them. Before long, the hunters become the prey as the Seals are faced with a fight for their very lives against overwhelming Taliban forces. Based on a true story.


What we thought:

Lone Survivor is a difficult film to review. On the one hand, it's technically impressive as veteran director Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights, The Kingdom) bounces back from the utterly atrocious Battleship with a war film that actually convinces as a realistic depiction of the horrors of war. It's well acted (it's pretty much impossible to dislike Mark Wahlberg these days), beautifully shot and boasts some of the year's best sound design. Unfortunately, it's also a total bore.

First and foremost, while it's all very well that it's based on a book of the same title, which is itself based on largely true events, the film's title is a total spoiler that robs the action of even the slightest amount of suspense – and that's not even taking into account the fact that the first five minutes of the film reveal exactly who survives (hint: he's on the poster). This may be a “serious” war film but it's unquestionably the case that, at least on one level, it's trying to work as an action thriller. Not that it comes close to succeeding. The action scenes are well shot but because you know exactly what's going to happen, it's hard to get too invested. Worse though, are the quieter moments that are theoretically supposed to amp up the tension but, as there's no actual tension, they end up being merely excruciatingly tedious.

As a war drama, it doesn't really do much better, either. The actual storyline is very bare bones, which would, of course, be perfectly fine but it's backed up with neither compelling characters, nor any sense of having something to say. On the former point, our heroes are entirely undeveloped and show little in the way of real personality, while the Taliban soldiers are little more than a faceless evil. Even the civilians that are caught between the two are strictly two-dimensional – if, admittedly, inspiringly heroic as they often stand up to the brutish Taliban. There are clearly plenty of heroic people in this cast of real-life characters so it feels churlish, if not outright disrespectful, to dismiss them but, whatever you might say about them as flesh-and-blood real life heroes, they are utterly inert as dramatic constructs.

Then there's the “message” of the film. This is clearly not a movie of moral complexity or political intrigue but is, very simply, a recount of a group of young soldiers trying to survive against impossible odds. The American soldiers are the goodies, the Taliban guerillas are the baddies and though that may be broadly accurate, it certainly doesn't reflect any of the complexities of the situation and, despite only really focusing on a handful of soldiers, it never really gives us a sense of an individual's view of the war. Yes, there are also the brave villagers but the film has little more to say about them than the fact that they are heroic and that, hey, not all Afghanis support this fringe extremist group. Who knew, right?

The only thing, then, that the film really has to say is that war is, like, bad, m'kay? Again, who knew? I mean sure, it's a point that is damn near impossible to argue against but how many war movies do we have to see with this exact same theme? Especially when so many war stories do it so much better than it is here. Stuff like Apocalypse Now or Garth Ennis' war comics, show just how powerful the “war is hell” theme can be but that's because they're always backed by strong characters, thematic richness, memorable stylistic choices and/ or a powerful emotional under- (or over-) current. Lone Survivor tells us that “war is hell” but that's all it tells us. That may be enough for war-movie junkies, but it certainly isn't enough for me.



An impressively mounted, but woefully under-developed war movie, Lone Survivor never lives up to its decent intentions.
Read more on:    taylor kitsch  |  mark wahlberg  |  ben foster  |  movies

Bergen 2014/05/10 4:50 PM
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As in Black Hawk Down, both books were riveting, as was the movie of the Mogadishu battle. Luttrell's book was incredible, the movie was always going to be hard to pull off - I loved it.
Jackie 2014/05/10 4:56 PM
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Even though Battleship wasnt the greatest it still delivered what we wanted, giant alien ships, hot chicks, nifty one liners and lots of action. Peter Berg is a good director. This movie cant be that bad since Ilan is reviewing it. Cant take this Ilan serious anyway.
Josh 2014/05/10 9:47 PM
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This film left an impression on me in its true reflection of the brutality of war. It showed the humanity (i.e. frailty) of man, and yet the triumph of the spirit. The director ensured that this film portrayed the reality of a true Battle/conflict. I think the "professional" reviewer was looking for the typical Hollywood Hype Action non stop Skop Skiet and Donner stuff... The fact remains that largely war is made up of tremendous amounts of waiting and then a very short period of stupendously violent battle. Wahlberg was very good again, and the other supporting actors also acted very true to life like. Im sure there must have been a very significant amount of time spent with a Seal Team advisor. I give this film 5 thumbs up for its realism and attention to detail.
Bob 2014/05/10 10:22 PM
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I haven't seen the movie, but if the reviewer is right that this movie doesn't explore the moral dilemma these soldiers faced, then it was clearly a missed opportunity which could have presented viewers with some real food for thought. Michael Sandel, a professor of philosophy at Harvard law school has used this story in his lecture series and book - Justice : What's the right thing to do? The blogpost below discusses this story under the title, the Afghan goatherds h t t p://payingattentiontothesky.com/2010/05/03/three-approaches-to-justice-michael-sandel/
JamesBlacksmith 2014/05/10 11:27 PM
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I won't be watching this movie as I've seen Restrepo, a documentary about US marines in Afghanistan. I've also seen the 'silent war', a documentary highlighting the frequency of rape among woman in the US military (over 50%). The US propaganda machine makes us believe that the US military is about handsome and wholesome men trying to make the world a better place. Watch restrepo. Learn something.
Vincent ray 2014/05/11 5:18 AM
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I watched the movie, I thought it was pretty good overall. The issue of the title was a giveaway as the reviewer has pointed out.
Danny Van Der Walt 2014/05/11 8:40 AM
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You watch a Mark Wahlberg movie for the action and guaranteed entertainment. You do walk away thinking of the meaning of life or questioning your own existence. If you want suspense and artistic beauty, go watch a Meryl Streep movie.
Ilan Preskovsky 2014/05/12 1:56 PM
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Some fun comments here but Danny Van Der Walt? You pretty clearly haven't seen the movie. If you had, you would probably join me in laughing at just how ironic your comment is.
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