Genre: War Action
Directed by: Peter Berg (Battleship)
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster, Eric Bana
With its platform release and studio push, Peter Berg’s Lone Survivor was obviously groomed for awards season. In theory, this makes sense in the context of the critical success of Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker (2008) and Zero Dark Thirty (2012). While I wouldn’t call myself a fan of those movies, Lone Survivor is nowhere near their league. Unfortunately, director Berg is a bit of a lightweight behind the camera. I’ll readily admit that I enjoyed his Battleship (2012) for what it was — a dumb, junky and occasionally entertaining sci-fi flick. Lone Survivor, despite its more lofty aspirations and real-life underpinnings, isn’t very far from the same kind of goofy cinema, turning into more of an ode to overcooked '80s action movies than the very serious — and very patriotic — movie it poses as.
Based on the nonfiction book Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell — who’s played here by Mark Wahlberg — it’s pretty easy to tell where the film is going. Of course, the movie takes two hours to get there. Luttrell is a Navy SEAL who, along with three other soldiers (played by Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster), is sent into the mountains of Afghanistan to take out a Taliban leader (Yousuf Azami). There, they encounter some wandering goatherders and decide to let them go free, a decision that sends the Taliban after them in full force, far from the protection of the U.S. military. For a moment, the film attempts to get into more complex territory, raising questions as to what’s appropriate in combat (like letting innocent civilians free even if it means possible death).
These philosophical concerns, however, are soon dropped in a hail of bullets, explosions and patriotism. The last two-thirds of the film is basically one extended action sequence. The way Berg handles this is both boorish and problematic. The entire ambush led by the Taliban has the feel and bloodiness of torture-porn, as these men are shot, blown up, broken, cut and knocked down mountains. There’s an almost fetishistic way in which Berg films the action — from the wide-angle shots of massive guns to the splattery manner of the bloodshed. The climax is something out of some old Chuck Norris film, with random explosions and stuntmen launched over parked cars.
All of this is immediately followed by a tug-at-your-heartstrings moment that’s a Coca-Cola away from turning into that old Mean Joe Green commercial. There’s no emotional center (our heroes are merely sketched in, despite attempts at humanizing them early on), so Lone Survivor never packs the tear-jerking wallop it desperately wants and truly needs. Its coda (unfortunately set to a corny Peter Gabriel cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes”) proves the film has its heart in the right place. It's just too blunt and nasty to follow through. Rated R for strong bloody war violence and pervasive language.
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