Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Emile Hirsch, Taylor Kitsch
Genre: Action/ Drama/ War
In June 2005 a team of American Navy Seals are sent on a dangerous mission to track and kill Ahmad Shahd, a key Taliban figure. For the team of four soldiers sent on this mission it is suddenly compromised when they encounter a group of innocent goat herders. Forced by both their rules of engagement and their own personal morality, they let the goat herders go well in the knowledge that their position is likely to be given away pretty much instantly. With an impending outnumbered attack from heavily armed Taliban soldiers, these four soldiers are now engaged in a brutal gunfight for their lives.
I am not sure about anyone else, but when I saw Lone Survivor was directed by Peter Berg, the big question I was asking was, can the director of The Kingdom and Battleship make a good war film of integrity? Well the answer for me is yes (sort of).
It does appear that Berg makes the film with passion (sometimes), and the decision to go for a 15 rating allows him to capture in Lone Survivor’s thrilling middle third a truly exhilarating gunfight. Admittedly it does at times feel like a computer game, but it is loud, unrelenting and brutal edge of your seat stuff. Of course the title does perhaps serve as a little bit of a plot spoiler, but this does not detract from what is a really well made (extended) action sequence.
This being a true story, it of course adds genuine poignancy to the narrative and though it is perhaps a little clichéd it is hard not to be moved by the montage of pictures featuring the men that all died during this unfortunate turn of events (though the use of Peter Gabriel’s version of David Bowie’s Heroes is really not necessary – we get the point Pete!). Though Berg gets away with that, all the usual scenes of misguided patriotism do sometimes detract. It is to the cast’s credit that they all provide likeable characters, and Wahlberg, Hirsch, Kitsch and Ben Foster in particular all give committed turns. In fact, I can safely say this is the seemingly cursed Taylor Kitsch’s best performance since X-Men Origins. Though that is not saying much!
I do not want to get bogged down in the politics of who are the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ guys, and propaganda may be too strong a word, but the slow motion shots and war film clichés for me just took away a little bit of the power. Then maybe that was down to those funding it more than Berg, but that I will never know. The whole getting-to-know-you and brothers in arms elements of the first third and the dialogue in Berg’s script certainly are cheesy, and there are many moments where he slips into Michael Bay mode. When people are having conversations away from the battlefield Berg seems to feel he has to up the apparent intensity even more by moving the camera really fast around these characters and editing at the speed of light. During these scenes my only thought was “for God’s sake Peter, just keep the camera still!” It is things like this that really take the viewer out of the moment and remind us that he did indeed make the equally loud Battleship.
The final third is a complete change and though still tense, feels rushed as it just seemed that Berg put all his efforts into the middle third and just wanted to get the rest of the story over with. For me the final third does contain depictions of genuine bravery by humble Afghan villagers that is arguably braver in context than what these highly trained professional soldiers did. Though a paragraph before the credits explains the reasons for this and it is to the film’s credit that it does this, it just feels that Berg was punching the air with self congratulation during the film’s middle third and had his mind solely on having deluded thoughts about a potential Oscar nomination while making this hurried final third.
Despite the slightly deluded stoicism of the director of Battleship thinking he has made his Zero Dark Thirty, Lone Survivor often complacently relies on the natural emotional power of being a true story a bit too much. However an unrelenting middle third provides genuine excitement, but overall Lone Survivor is an extremely loud and often brutal war film that unfortunately just cannot deliver everything that it promises, but is still certainly worth a watch.