These Seals are the real deal

These Seals are the real deal

Taut action thriller has some thoughtful bite

By Tim Pompey 01/23/2014

Lone Survivor
Directed by Peter Berg
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster
Rated R for strong bloody war violence and pervasive language
2 hr. 1 min.

There’s no lack of movies that use war and battle as a backdrop for entertainment. But in recent years, some filmmakers (think Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty) have taken on current war scenarios and given a broader picture of what it means to live and die under fire.

Lone Survivor fits in that category and goes even further. In this particular battle, pitting Navy Seals against the Afghan Taliban, our soldiers lose the battle — badly. So, you ask, how could this possibly be interesting or inspiring?

Well, the paradox of this particular story is that losing doesn’t necessarily mean quitting, and so we learn that, against incredible odds and with assistance from some surprising allies, one Seal survives.

In June 2005, four Navy Seals were dropped behind enemy lines in rural Afghanistan. Under the leadership of Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), the Seals were tasked with assassinating notorious al-Qaida leader Ahmad Shahd. Accompanying Murphy  were Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) and Matt Axelson (Ben Foster).

From the start, things take a downward turn. Surrounded by more than 200 al-Qaida fighters, their communication equipment fails. Then, they are discovered by a small group of al-Qaida goat herders. When the Taliban soldiers arrive, all hell breaks loose and the Seals are forced to fight in terrain that is steep, rugged and filled with snakes.

I’m not spoiling any surprise here (the title of the film gives away the ending) when I tell you that Luttrell is the only survivor. But what is surprising is how grounded this film remains. There’s very little patriotic hoopla, and the use of digital technology helps give the film more of an “on the scene” type of feel. Think of this as war up close and personal.

Director Peter Berg zooms in on the real-life settings of the characters themselves. Yes, there’s a sense of pride in being a Seal, but still, it’s work, as much as for anyone who has a regular job. So when the orders come, Berg shows both the professionalism and the humanity of his soldiers. Professionalism in that they are ready to go when called. Humanity in that they are just a group of guys who have lengthy discussions about what colors to paint the house, whether to buy an expensive horse and whether or not a certain woman will be coming to one of their weddings.

There’s also a heated discussion after they capture the al-Qaida goat herders as to what to do with them. In this insightful dialogue, we find the crux of such incidents as the prison at Abu Ghraib and the recent controversies over rendition and torture. While these Seals are well-trained and dedicated to their country, it doesn’t mean they escape the consequences of their actions.

Berg keeps the story tight and the scenes coming at a rapid-fire pace. The result is that, whatever your political persuasion, it’s hard not to be pulled into the battle. And yes, there are some surprises to this tale, including the real reason why Luttrell survives.

The cast includes the kind of men you could easily picture as Seals. Wahlberg and Kitsch, two great action stars, revel in their element, while Hirsch and Foster, usually associated with more thoughtful roles, are solid complements.

Even though the ending feels a little too hurried, at its core, Lone Survivor is a very thoughtful action film with some sharp dialogue and startling battle scenes that will literally make you jump in your seat. More about staying alive than gaining ground, it’s a film that lays out in bloody detail the basic human will to survive. Stranger yet, in that quest to live, sometimes we are surprised by the ones who reach out to help us.


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