The thing about naming a movie “Lone Survivor” is that you have a pretty fair idea of how it’s going to end, and it’s not good.
Still, despite telling everyone just how things shake out from the start, “Lone Survivor” somehow manages to keep its audience on the edge of their seats.
Based on a true story of a failed mission by Navy SEALs to take out a Taliban bigwig in 2005, Mark Wahlberg stars as Marcus Luttrell, a member of SEAL Team 10 on reconnaissance with three other SEALs to scope out Taliban leader Ahmad Shah, who had gained a name for himself by killing dozens of Marines.
Along with Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) and Matt “Axe” Axelson (Ben Foster), Luttrell scales a mountain in the dead of night to set up an observation post.
Things quickly go south after the SEALs are discovered by a group of villagers herding goats on the mountain. They get worse when the shale-heavy topography jams their radio and satellite communication with the base for extraction, and their silence worries the commander at the base, Erik Kristensen (Eric Bana). The situation plummets further as hundreds of members of the Taliban descend upon them and they struggle to stay together—and alive.
Again, you know it’s not a matter of if but when everyone dies. In some ways, that makes it worse—you’re wondering if every shot or fall down a slope will do them in. They’re tough as nails, though, so each member takes unthinkable amounts of punishment.
Director Peter Berg does a great job of bringing viewers onto the mountain with the SEALs—the audience at the screening I went to gasped, cheered and muttered more than in most movies. It doesn’t seem like 2005 was all that long ago, but there are also enough inclusions of bygone pop culture to fling me back to high school.
For anyone who hasn’t thought about the conflict in the Middle East for a while, too, this makes you stare it in the face—both the villainous Taliban and the sympathetic Afghan villagers who themselves are victims of terrorists.
That chapter, with the villagers, was unexpected but welcome. Berg resisted what I’m sure was a heavy temptation to overdo village life to starkly contrast the members of the Taliban the SEALs had been fighting, making it more effective in its subtlety. And the SEALs, while shown to keep on going after accumulating incredible injuries, aren’t depicted as invulnerable superheroes. They do get hurt—and killed.
While details about SEAL missions rarely come to light, the military reportedly contacted Luttrell about writing a book about this mission to clear up various stories and rumors about it for the record. Later, I heard, he was encouraged to be involved in this movie, based off of his book, though he had no interest in writing a book or helping out on a movie.
Actual military veterans were used for various roles, and the real-life Marcus Luttrell is even in it briefly—watch for him early on as a SEAL who spills his coffee. Berg also reportedly met with each of the families of the men who died, to make sure their individual stories were correctly told. And from what I’ve heard so far from folks in a better position to comment on the credibility of the people and procedures depicted in it, all of those efforts for accuracy pay off.
That accuracy, though, inevitably means plenty of profanity. There’s a reason for the phrase “swearing like a sailor.” There is also, understandably, lots of violence and buckets of blood.
For this reason, I am going to highly recommend you not take a date to it. I mean, your date could really appreciate it and be into this sort of thing, I guess, but as a rule of thumb, don’t see this as part of a romantic evening.
That being said, “Lone Survivor” is a tense, patriotic thriller that gives an intimate angle to the fight in the Middle East.
Time: 121 minutes