One of the last features of 2013, “Lone Survivor” is among the most intense and violent films I’ve ever seen. From director Peter Berg and starring Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster, and Eric Bana, this shocking and dramatic presentation tells the true story of a 2005 U.S. military operation gone wrong.
This movie is extremely gruesome, but at its core, honors a tale of four men who gave their lives for each other and a greater good while serving their country.
Director, writer, and actor Peter Berg, has been involved in many projects: “Friday Night Lights” (TV and movie), “Hancock,” “Battleship,” and more; but with “Lone Survivor,” he does some of his best work yet. Based on the nonfiction book by Marcus Luttrell, the film involves four U.S. Navy SEALs who are sent on a covert mission to survey and capture or kill al-Qaeda leader, Ahmad Shahd. While embedded in deep cover of the mountains near the Shahd’s camp in Afghanistan, the SEALs encounter a group of native animal herders. Knowing that if they release the natives, they will alarm the nearby enemy militia in the camp, the SEALs must decide what to do with them. After opting to let them go and attempting to make a run for safety, the team experiences a severe, gory, and hard-to-watch firefight that is played out over a large portion of the movie as they fight for their survival.
“Lone Survivor” is very well done in many regards. The film has a great modern military feel and look to it, it is shot and presented in an attractive, aggressive manner, and it has a fitting, exceptional cast. From the scenery, to the military vehicles and equipment, to the combat, most everything looks authentic and well put together with the exception of a few shots. It’s really cool to see what the filmmakers do with slow motion action as someone shoots a gun, gets shot, or is killed. Often times, it is from the perspective of a rifle scope, nearby camera, or first-person view. The cast is filled with high-profile actors such as the ones mentioned above, and they carry out their performances quite suitably while appearing to have good chemistry with each other. Coupled with the emotion, shock, and action, this film has its moments of humor as well.
A good part of the “Lone Survivor” features the exchange of fire and explosives from one side to another as the SEALs try to escape, and this is played out in a lengthy, fierce, and (at times) disturbing battle. Showing executions, bullet wounds, and lots of blood, this is one of those films that does not hold back and causes you to look away at times. There are deaths, extreme injuries, and a good amount of profane language throughout. Several major characters’ deaths are a bit over the top, but the film does a decent job of dramatizing these scenes with emotional dialogue, music, and slow motion. The movie features a lot of video footage and pictures that honor the real characters and events this film is based on, but at times these montages drag on for too long in my opinion, especially at the end. Aside from the long-winded combat that takes place in the middle of the film, the rest of the time is filled with military planning, preparation, and rescue scenes that are interesting to watch, but slow and packed with information at the same time.
This is one of those films that makes you think about what you would do if you were in their shoes. Their choices in the movie are simple: either kill the innocent, native herders they come across in the woods and continue on with their mission or let them go and make an unlikely escape over the mountain. In the end, the SEALs make the decision that they believe is right, but they know that it may ultimately cost them their lives. Live or die, these men stick together and fight for each other no matter the consequences, and it is absolutely shocking and emotionally tough to see the events that play out after their decision. Many people have compared “Lone Survivor” to “Saving Private Ryan,” but instead of pressuring it to live up to this comparison, I’ll simply say that this film does a great job at bringing to light the events of this botched military operation in a powerful, brutal, and melodramatic presentation.
Rated 4 out of 5 stars
“Lone Survivor” is rated R for strong bloody war violence and pervasive language. Running time is 2 hours and 1 minute.
[Ed. Note: This review initially identified the men as both Navy SEALs and Marines. They were SEALs, not Marines. The copy has been corrected and we apologize for the error.]
Hayden Pittman is a special contributor to WFAA.com and a freelance film critic and entertainment blogger out of Dallas. More of his content can be found on YouPlusDallas.com and his author archive here. He is a film, TV, and sports enthusiast, and hopes to pursue a future in filmmaking and screenwriting. As an average, passionate film lover who rarely misses a film, his reviews are straightforward and his way with words will let you know in a simple way what he thinks. Don’t like what he has to say? Let him know at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @HPMoviePitt.