I have seen a lot of great combat movies in my lifetime, some based on actual events and some drawn from fiction but none has quite gotten under my skin as a film audience like Lone Survivor. This is not only because of the sheer amount of violence in the movie but because it was such as realistic depiction of what happened on the field to the four Navy Seals who were assigned to Operation Red Wings, a counter insurgency mission in Afghanistan, that I felt like I was right there watching the mayhem and was helpless to stop it.
When Navy Seals Lt. Mike Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), communications specialist Danny Deitz (Emile Hirsch), sniper Matthew Axelson (Ben Foster) and hospital corpsman/sniper Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg) were tasked to get additional intelligence on ruthless Taliban leader Ahmad Shah, they were surprised to find that the small camp they were set to keep an eye on was a full blown village full of supporters of the Afghan extremist. Waiting for an opportunity to take down Shah, the group decides to bide their time before making their next move. Their mission is compromised when they are spotted by a family of shepherds who report their presence to the Taliban. Soon, they are trapped on top of the mountain, with no radio contact to seek rescue and support from the base and are left with only their wits to fend off their enemies with their limited resources.
I have mixed feelings about this movie. It was so inspiring, yet so depressing at the same time. On the one hand, the fact that it was based on actual events makes audiences immediately identify with the characters. The real-life footage of actual Seals in training gives the audience a glimpse of just how hard it is to qualify for the program in the first place, giving them an understanding of why they act as they do on the field.
What sets Lone Survivor apart from other movies of the same genre was the level of rapport among the actors cast in the main and supporting roles. Although there were a lot of A-listers in this movie, director Peter Berg (Hancock, Battleship) was able to strike a balance among everybody involved so that they were on the same page from day 1. The goal was to pay homage to the real life heroes who played a part in Operation Red Wings and this was what they managed to accomplish, playing their roles not only with their acting skills but with respect for the characters they portray and the heart for what was lost.
While Mark Wahlberg portrayed the film’s title role, Taylor Kitsch stepped up as Murphy, the team leader on the field, who eventually made the humane choice leading up to their dilemma. Emile Hirsch’s Danny was humorous and endearing like he was in his pictures and Ben Foster’s Matt Axelman provided the quiet strength and determination for the team. His character was more silent and together and during the height of the crisis, he always seemed to be focused. Eric Bana, who signed up for the movie no matter what role he would end up with, took a back seat and played the supporting role of Lt. Commander Erik Kristensen and did what he did best with great subtlety. As for Mark pulling double duty as producer and actor, he did a great job and portrayed Marcus not as a perfect hero but tinged with vulnerabilities and doubts that is natural for a soldier on the field. The cast worked together very well resulting in a sense of camaraderie and brotherhood that transcends the movie screen. The dialogue also seemed very natural and the actors seemed very comfortable in the exchanges — may it be just horsing around or sharing their final hours together. I should really give credit to the actors for nailing their roles. When the real life photos of the actual Seals were shown in the end, I had no trouble picturing them doing the same thing in the actual battle as the actors did in the movie.
The action scenes in this movie were off the hook. From the time the gunfire started and the neverending flow of bad guys kept coming, I felt like my heart was going to jump off of my chest. If there was ever a question about how tough the Seals really are, this movie would be enough to debunk any doubt. If not, then perhaps the autopsy reports on how much injuries were sustained by the team before they were eventually killed in the gunfire would suffice as evidence. The amount of determination and punishment that the team endured would be enough to kill lesser men and I for one, think this is indeed a fitting tribute to those who fell during Operation Red Wings, which recorded the largest casualty count for the Seals since the Vietnam war.The sheer brutality of the scenes were so devastating and it evokes a sense of horror for those who actually live in the area under the rule of the ruthless Talibans.
There were dramatic moments in the film but they were done in such a way that was not cheesy or awkward. Their heroism did not feel forced and their dialogues were very engaging. This can be credited to the great establishing scenes towards the beginning of the movie. There were ethical questions that raised more questions — did the Seals make the right call in releasing the shepherds unharmed? Would their mission have taken a different turn had they decided otherwise and what would have been the repercussion of their choice? Was making the humane choice worth losing the lives of 19 soldiers? While the mission may have eventually succeeded, there are many who would agree that the honorable choice would be the right one but many would argue that had the Seals simply eliminated the compromise, then things could have turned out better for the soldiers. The scenes after the mountain battle were very touching, seeing as how the kindness of the Pashtunwali tribe compelled them to help Marcus despite the risk to their own homes and families. The contrast of this act of kindness to the violence of the battle provides a different dimension to the way people perceive the war.
All in all, I loved the fact that Lone Survivor was not only a movie about one operation. Rather, it was a look at what types of relationships bond these men on the field. It ventured to show the audience what extent these Frogmen would go to save their own. It was not only a look at morality but rather, a glimpse of war, where innocence is stripped from an early age and violence takes it toll on young minds. The film was well researched and everybody who was part of it became truly invested in the film. As a result, it became more than just a combat movie, it established an emotional connection that the audience would not soon forget. And that’s what makes it so great. Oh, and watch out for cameos of the actual Marcus Luttrel peppered throughout the movie.