Navy SEALs mission goes tragically off course in Afghanistan
Starring Mark Walhberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster
Directed by Peter Berg
R, 121 min.
Director Peter Berg’s bloody, violent Lone Survivor comes by its blood and violence honestly. It’s based on former U.S. Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell’s account of a bloody, violent 2005 mission in Afghanistan from which he emerged as—well, you can probably figure that out from the title, based on Luttrell’s New York Times Bestseller.
Luttrell’s book chronicled his involvement as part of a four-man team tasked with covertly tracking down a Taliban warlord in the remote, rugged Kunar province. But Operation Red Wings was quickly compromised and the SEALs (played by Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster) found themselves in a deadly bind, pinned down by Taliban fighters.
Berg, who adapted Luttrell’s book for the screen as well as directed, has made a rip-roaring war movie that literally rips and roars. Gunfire tears ferociously into flesh, clothing and bone; one shoot-out scene, in particular, is a nearly deafening chorus of high-caliber zings, zips, booms and pops as bullets fly and spent shell casings bounce off rocks.
The SEALs’ predicament hinges on a decision they make when an Afghan shepherd, two boys and a herd of goats accidentally come across their mountainside surveillance spot. What they do in that decisive moment sets the rest of the movie in fateful motion.
And what rough-and-tumble motion it is, as Wahlberg and his co-stars absorb blows, bullets and shrapnel, break bones, lose body parts, dent skulls and plunge off the mountainside not just once but twice, sliding, slamming and ramming into boulders and tree trunks. Cinematographer Tobias Schliessler shoots the punishing, pummeling violence as if it’s both horrific and saintly, a Passion play of blood, saliva and bodies battered and bullet-riddled to pulp for a higher cause.
It’s a super-macho movie without a single female character, and definitely not for the squeamish—but neither is war, and what it sometimes requires, and that’s the point. A pre-credits slideshow introduces the real servicemen portrayed by the cast, as David Bowie sings “Heroes.”
And you’ll see another photo of someone in the movie who was also a hero, but I won’t spoil it by telling you who. A modern-day Good Samaritan pivotal to the story in the final stretch, he also reminds us that not everyone in a place where we’re at war is an enemy.
Lone Survivor isn’t exactly a cup of Christmas comfort and joy. But this brutally intense, emotionally stirring tribute to America’s fighting spirit has a message that will certainly resonate, like a punch to the gut, with anyone who’d prefer a steaming slab of gung-ho movie sausage to yet another slice of nutty holiday fruitcake.
—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine