Lone Survivor is a movie that does itself a few large disservices: Its title reveals too much; its trailer is much too long and plays like quick spot on an On Demand showcase; and it tugs and shoves and pulls in so many directions, that it ends up seeming unsure of both its strengths and its point.
There’s a decent and well-crafted movie in there, but the marketing, and a good deal of the film itself, tend to be dissuasive.
Survivor, if you haven’t seen the trailer, chronicles the story of SEAL Team 10’s somewhat disastrous Operation Red Wings, a 2005 mission with the objective of assassinating Taliban leader Ahmad Shah during the Afghanistan war.
Mark Wahlberg plays SO1 Marcus Luttrell, the titular Lone Survivor and author of the book on which the film is based, and his story is indeed an interesting, even uplifting one, and director Peter Berg shoots it with an apparent grittiness and shakiness that you would expect. Wahlberg plays haggard and weary well. Impassioned well. Sorrowful well.
Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster, and Eric Bana, as his team, convey the sense of golden brotherhood that makes films like these sustainable. The story, while short, is compelling, and the second act of Wahlberg’s survival is an interesting twist. It’s a decent film, and if you’re in the mood for a good war drama, this is safe bet.
What’s the point? This doesn’t need to be a political film; it doesn’t need to justify its war or its mission or, on the opposite end, attack it. And it doesn’t. Nor does it need to go far beyond what it does well, which is action. It’s not spectacular or very original, it even seems too polished in its sterile dirt. However, the biggest flaw, which nearly becomes an insult, at least to me, is what I want to describe as the film’s lack of faith in itself, but which I should really, if I’m being honest, is its pandering.
Certainly Lone Survivor is not the most aggressive film in its reverence for the characters, but it pokes and needles until its many nails pierce every slab of skin, and then, at the end, it drives each one in with a jackhammer.
The point I’m dancing around is that I don’t like being talked down to. No doubt Luttrell and his team were courageous, regardless of whether one agrees with their mission or not, but to tell the audience that they must respect and appreciate the sacrifice of these men diminishes their actions. Let the heroism on screen do that. Let their flaws and weaknesses make them human and thus make their accomplishments all the more significant. Yes, it also undermines the movie’s confidence in its message, but it also constantly reminds the audience that they are watching a movie. That what is up on screen is fiction, even if it’s based on a true story.
It’s a balance that every film of this type must find when portraying a real-life story, and Berg evidently feels that authenticity comes from a helicopter or a base on loan and under the watchful eye of the U.S. Armed Forces than, well, anything else.And in the end what you get is the letter of Luttrell and his men, not the spirit.