“Writer/director Berg, does an exceptional job at giving the scenes of combat clarity and intensity.”
There are many millions of brave Americans who, despite the countless amount of dangers and uncertainties, risk their lives by joining the military and bearing numerous responsibilities while holding true core values of brotherhood and honorable behavior. For the rest of us, our windows to their courage are news reports and film, which is why war films of all kinds already open up to a large audience. Many of us are curious about the frontlines of battle, but are unsure if we could face them ourselves.
Peter Berg’s Lone Survivor is one of the windows that makes us question how many war operations and events in war go criminally under the radar because of the immensity and scale of battle. To make one film on, say, the War in Afghanistan that attempted to hit all the points and major incidents that occurred in the war would be a catastrophe simply because there is too much material to span one movie. There need to be several that focus on different aspects.
Lone Survivor is a solid war film, boasting a “never forget” mentality, focusing on Seal Team 10’s, Operation Red Wings, a failed mission to take out a Taliban leader in Afghanistan. The film follows Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg) and three other members of Seal Team 10 as they maneuver through a dense, woodsy area to try and take out the leader when they run into local villagers that live in the same general area. From there on out, all hell breaks loose, with crucial decisions that need to be made and a brutal gunfight between the Americans and the Taliban.
Writer/director Berg, does an exceptional job at giving the scenes of combat clarity and intensity. He also excels at the slowburn tactic of filmmaking, meaning events and sequences develop over time rather than rushing into elements of the plot. Berg takes his time and clearly plans each scene accordingly so as not to disrupt or rush anything along.
It’s also worth noting that his camerawork is sublime, some of the best a recent, combat-heavy war film has had. He doesn’t feel the need to keep the camera unsteady, nor does he feel the need to switch to the helmet-cams, chest-cams, or waist-cams equipped on the soldiers. He keeps everything steady and clear, even when the events unfolding seem unclear to the soldiers.
The Seal Team are made up of a band of actors we’ve all seen somewhere in something very good, such as Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch, Taylor Kitsch, and even Eric Bana, who is starting to mirror Corey Feldman in speech and mannerisms, it seems. Every actor here doesn’t mess around with their characters, particularly because nobody has any characters to begin with. The film, despite its strengths, completely misses one of its major goals, which is to keep these men, their bond, and their duties in our hearts as we go about our daily lives. That’s a difficult thing to do when we’re given next to no exposition on their lives and their personalities. For starters, once the soldiers put on the military garb, they’re pretty much all the same from a quick glance, and while Peter Berg does a miraculous job at keeping the combat scenes coherent, the quality of the camera clear, and the focus on the actions of these men, he misses the most important element, which is the men who lie behind their uniforms.
In addition, the film also feels a bit uncertain of what it wants to say about war. I suppose you could make a case for this film being either pro-war or anti-war, depending on how you’re willing to analyze certain sequences. My only theory on why there is this uncertain mesh is that Berg didn’t want to put words in Luttrell’s mouth on his opinion of this specific operation or the War in Afghanistan in general other than the circumstances that unfolded during this operation were devastating and tragic. I doubt Berg wanted to turn “Lone Survivor” into a moralistic ode on peace and love or one that justifies the reason we deployed troops into Afghanistan.
Having said that, it’s without a doubt that Lone Survivor will be an emotional moviegoing experience for some solely because of the circumstances. In a way, we should feel for these characters regardless of what movie-backstory is concocted because, first and foremost, they are human, but when the basis of the film’s existence is the real Marcus Luttrell trying to keep “the memory of my friends alive,” then there should be at least some distinction between character.
Tacked on to the conclusion of Lone Survivor is a wonderful compilation of pictures of the real men who died during the real Operation Red Wings and also includes home videos of the men as well. This is probably the closest thing Berg gets to actual humanization in the film and, to say the least, it feels right. It shows the men, some of which at their wedding, some with their children, and some with their friends, showing audience members to consider the men as a whole rather than what they’re doing with their service. Of course, this would be better if the film actually had some decent humanization to go along with this concluding montage.
Even if it is lacking in real character identities, Lone Survivor is still effective entertainment in the long run; the kind that is open for debate and, as justified by Luttrell and a clearly loyal writer/director, focuses on a story that shouldn’t be forgotten.
Review by Steve Pulaski, Lead Film Critic