Lone Survivor follows Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), the only survivor of four US Navy SEALs (Emile Hirsch, Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster) who are ambushed by enemy forces during an operation to capture or kill a notorious al-Qaeda leader in Afghanistan.
Based on the true story of Operation Red Wings in 2005, Peter Berg’s latest film is a harrowing portrait of modern warfare. From the opening title sequence, a montage of video footage from the SEALs gruelling recruitment process, Lone Survivor thrusts its audiences into a world of unrelenting brutality. This film is not for the fainthearted. While at first the fighting feels like generic choreographed blockbuster action where the “superior” Americans unquestionably prevail, it doesn’t take long before Berg shatters this façade. The close-combat fighting sequence is a barrage of remorseless and terrifying sensory degradation; from the unremitting noise of the gunfire and bomb explosions, to Berg’s jarring use of the handy cam, audiences are unable to escape from the innate dread and fear that bleeds from every frame. Berg demands a draining sense of emotional vulnerability, leaving his audience members feeling as bruised and assaulted as the soldiers onscreen.
Mark Wahlberg gives a strong performance as Marcus Luttrell, showing commitment to all that is thrown at him in this role – literally and figuratively, the actors in Lone Survivor undergo an abundance of physical and emotional distress in some of the most intense scenes in recent cinema. Emile Hirsch, Taylor Kitsch, and Ben Foster all give considered performances as the three US Navy SEALs joining Luttrell on his mission, especially considering the three roles are underwritten and lack any real substance. As an ensemble, the four evoke a strong sense of companionship and camaraderie that feels authentic to the bond of brotherhood so intrinsic to a soldier’s time during service. The small moments of affection and friendship not only provide light relief during an otherwise bleak film, but also heighten the sense of loss experienced once Berg’s assault is in full swing.
Lone Survivor’s visceral impact ensures its worth as an important film in the war genre. Fans of platoon flicks will appreciate the rapid editing and crisp sound quality in producing a heightened sensory experience during the intense combat scenes. Tobias Schliessler’s cinematography offers interesting imagery that transcends beyond the typical war movie camera work, though at times he does resort to clichéd compositions that scream of mawkish patriotism.
Despite some interesting filmmaking, Lone Survivor is far from a perfect film. Rather than providing an unbiased account of an historical event as I was originally hoping, at times Lone Survivor screams of unabashed patriotism that verges on the edge of xenophobic. While I must admit Berg does attempt a conciliatory approach towards the Afghan locals who aid Luttrell, for the most part Lone Survivor stands firm on the mentality that the American military is superior and necessary in the Middle East. To be fair, any film about the war in Afghanistan is going to gain criticism for being too political, and contention is unavoidable in a film that barely errs on the side of caution in terms of nationalistic fervour.
While at times it suffers from the over-the-top theatricalities often found in Hollywood adaptations, for the most part this film offers a powerfully evocative look at life as a soldier in the twenty-first century. Unflinching in its approach to modern warfare, Lone Survivor is certainly an uncomfortable film to watch, though one that is sure to strike a cord amongst even the most desensitised of audience members.
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