Lone Survivor is devastating, which as war-is-hell movies go is high praise. Like the best of this season’s many films examining impossible choices, director Peter Berg eschews ham-fisted sentimentality by filling the screen with nothing but the naked gory truth and letting the audience choose their own individual takeaways.
In this case the impossible choice involves a 4-man Navy Seal Team operation in the mountains of Afghanistan who gets inadvertently discovered by a family of Afghan civilians. The soldiers have to decide whether to let the family go, thereby giving away their position to the local Taliban army, or to slaughter innocent people and save their own lives. They make a decision, but as the title suggests, it doesn’t go well for the team.
[ WARNING: The next paragraph is arguably a bit spoiler-y, though it’s nothing that isn’t already given away by the film’s title. It won’t affect your enjoyment of the film either way.]
Mark Wahlberg does a fine job starring as the real life Marcus Luttrell, who survived to come back and write the memoir the film is based on. But the highlight of the cast is the fantastic Ben Foster as a warrior who, in the most literal sense, refuses to give up the fight until his last breath. The SAG-winning stunt team earned every ounce of their award, repeatedly throwing themselves down sharp rocky cliffs over the course of several of the films most cringe worthy scenes.
My biggest issue had to do with an overlong tribute sequence before the end credits showing pictures and video of the real life soldiers involved, which, though it feels heartless to say, I found a bit distracting at the time. In retrospect, however, it actually perfectly bookends a similar home-video opening credit sequence of real (not staged) Navy Seal training routines.
This had been a long-simmering passion project for Berg, who in order to secure a studio greenlight, agreed to helm last year’s dismal Battleship first. He’s a talented man, but there’s not a director alive that could’ve saved that script. I’m glad he did it, though, because as bad as it was, the excellence of Lone Survivor more than makes up for it.