Genre: Action, Drama, Biography
Directed by: Peter Berg
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster
As the proverbial saying goes, “War is Hell”. Indeed, as those who have sat through the likes of Restrepo will already know, the constant threat from Taliban fighters in the Afghan valleys mean that even the tiniest of missions involves a high-level of risk.
Based on the memoir of the same name, Lone Survivor is a firsthand account of the brutality experienced by those fighting on the frontline. Operation Red Wings was setup to take down a Taliban commander who controlled an area of the Afghan hills. A team of four Navy SEALs was dispatched on a surveillance and reconnaissance mission deep within the enemy’s territory. As the title denotes, only one SEAL made it out alive.
With his film dedicated to all those involved in Operation Red Wings, director Peter Berg shows no fault in his determination to plunge the audience into their world. The opening credits are played over real-life training videos, highlighting the mental and physical exhaustion endured by the recruits, as well as the pride and camaraderie they feel upon completion. Early scenes intersect their everyday life on the base with mission briefings and tactical planning. While almost the entirety of the second half captures the horror and brutality of the battles they fight.
Berg and his cinematographer Tobias Schliessler capture the ferociousness of the gunfights with gnawing intensity, with the handheld camera frantically rushing through bloody scenes of devastation. Horrifying moments of the men having to launch themselves off cliff edges in order to escape the relentless onslaught of deafening gunfire, are followed by the hauntingly echoing sounds of the men landing on trees and rocks, their bones instantly shattering. However, though Berg’s depiction of frontline combat is undeniably visceral, it’s never as effective as it should be.
Despite sturdy performances from the ensemble, the characters are weakly drawn. Though the opening act is lengthy, all four members of the SEAL team are merely portrayed as generic macho hotheads with a band of brothers’ mentality and a sweetheart waiting back home. None of them are developed to be particularly memorable or even likeable, meaning their lengthy death scenes fail to carry the poignancy that the slow motion and emotional score desire.
More problematic is the film’s observations on modern warfare, which try to encompass many of the hard-hitting elements that have plagued both the Iraq and Afghan conflicts, but never succeed in actually addressing any of the issues. References are momentarily made on how the media’s constant determination to expose wrongdoing within the military has changed the way the soldiers do their jobs, but are never effectively explored.
It is issues such as these that constantly stop Lone Survivor from ever being able to make the lasting impression it so desperately wants to. Though Berg does succeed in planting his audience within this hellish existence, he’s rarely able to make us care about it.
Lone Survivor is out on DVD now.