Thursday, January 9, 2014
Review: "Lone Survivor"
Imagine you find yourself stuck in a situation where you must take innocent lives, or risk your own. Not only that, but an evil man lives while your comrades perish.
That was the plight facing four Navy SEALs in 2005 while hunting a Taliban leader in remote Afghanistan. Ultimately they made the moral choice, but it sealed the fate of all but one of them.
That’s the based-on-a-true-story premise of “Lone Survivor,” a powerful new action-drama starring Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster as the soldiers. Expertly crafted and harrowing, it’s not an especially deep film, falling back on firefights and familiar “band of brothers” tropes.
But in capturing the horror and confusion of modern combat, it’s as good as anything that has come along since “Black Hawk Down.”
Wahlberg plays Marcus Luttrell, the survivor who wrote the book upon which the movie is based. He’s an older, more seasoned SEAL, the voice of moderation and the guy the rest of the company turns to advice, whether it’s about mission equipment or what type of horse he should buy his fiancée as a wedding present.
Kitsch is Michael Murphy, the lieutenant and squad leader. He’s something of a legend among the SEALs, and lives up to his rep. Ben Foster, the excellent character actor, is terrific as Matt “Axe” Axelson, the hardcase sniper. And Emile Hirsch plays Danny Dietz, the youngest team member and communications man.
The mission was to drop into a hostile zone in Afghanistan where Taliban leader Ahmad Shah (Yousuf Azami) is known to be staying, and take him out. But while waiting for nightfall, three goat herders stumble across the soldiers, one an old man and another a young boy.
An argument breaks out over their options: kill the shepherds? Tie them up and face certain death from wolves or freezing temperatures? Or let them go, risking they’ll run right to Shah and bring down a small army of Taliban fighters on their head?
Ultimately, they made the third choice. Tellingly, writer/director Peter Berg makes these soldiers self-aware men who are cognizant of their place in a media-saturated world. Killing the shepherds, who are in possession of a satellite phone and almost certainly are pawns of the enemy, is undoubtedly the smartest movie from a Machiavellian standpoint. But, as Marcus points out, word will get out: “‘SEALs kill kids.’ That’ll be what they say on CNN,” he predicts.
From there, the film moves straight into action mode, with the ranging battle between the Americans and Taliban taking on a frightening verisimilitude. The SEALs have the superior experience and training, but they’re still four men up against dozens.
All the soldiers are grievously wounded, both by bullets and the necessity of throwing themselves off not one, but two cliffs to escape. It’s a testament to how much punishment the human body can take in extreme circumstances.
Eventually the only one left alive, Marcus makes his way to a nearby village, where he encounters a tribal leader (Ali Suliman) and more peril, but also a sort of bravery that rivals that of the SEALs.
Ultimately, “Lone Survivor” is an action-drama that lays more emphasis on the action part than the drama. But the firefight scenes are realistic and unnerving, and all four actors draw distinct portraits of young men at war.