Early Bird Review: “Lone Survivor”
“Lone Survivor,” despite its hopeful title, is not for the faint of heart. Writer-director Peter Berg’s (“Battleship”) riveting account of the Operation Redwing ordeal, first documented in the eponymous soldier Marcus Luttrell’s autobiography, pulls few punches in its tale of military heroism and post-9/11 brutality.
While the movie nearly crosses lines of tastefulness in its graphic depiction of bloodshed, and strong performances, a sturdy sense of the moral stakes largely outweighs the movie’s occasional disregard for nuance.
Mark Wahlberg (“The Fighter”) stars as Luttrell, a capable soldier in Navy SEAL Team 10, tasked at the beginning of the film with capturing a notorious Taliban leader in the forests of Afghanistan. Taylor Kitsch (“Battleship”), Ben Foster (“3:10 to Yuma”) and Emile Hirsch (“Into the Wild”) provide strong support as Luttrell’s closest friends on the team, a band of brothers united by their loyalty to the cause.
Once Luttrell and his team venture out into the forest, Berg rarely cuts back to the base of operations. Instead, he keeps his camera firmly trained on the lonely forest with the minimal soundtrack cutting out at key moments to underscore the barren stage for these competing factions. When the guns start blazing and limbs start flying, the movie ratchets up the “ick” factor, sometimes to the point of gratuitousness. But Berg never lets the audience forget that these atrocities happened, and they’re still happening.
Does this movie glorify American military values and antiquated notions of masculinity? Perhaps inevitably, the music swells and the audience blinks away tears at key moments of triumph, and the depiction of the Afghan opposition threatens one-dimensionality on several occasions. The sense of unflinching realism that elevated “12 Years a Slave” and “Captain Phillips” to greatness isn’t quite as strong here.
On the other hand, the movie is most affecting in moments of quiet restraint and poignant observation that recall Berg’s previous beloved project, the TV series “Friday Night Lights.” When Mike Murphy (Kitsch, who makes a strong case for renewing his stardom following his failure in “John Carter” and Berg’s “Battleship”) opens his laptop to find that his wife wants him to buy her a pair of exquisite ponies, he reacts with befuddlement and melancholy, both of which ring true given the circumstances.
Several characters refer to the gleefully absurd comedy “Anchorman,” which promises an escape they’ll never quite achieve. Berg accomplishes several haunting shots of the vast Afghan landscape, coupled with a soundtrack that suggests both inevitability and passive resignation.
When the movie argues that the ends justify the means in wartime, the clichés threaten to overwhelm the visceral intensity on display. An Afghan child figures prominently in a tonally inconsistent climactic scene, the sort of ludicrous touch that need be emphasized. Key American characters get long, slow, laudatory farewell shots before they die, while the Afghan people fall away in rapid succession.
Despite its problematic elements, “Lone Survivor” is worth seeing for its uncompromising portrayal of this real-life trauma, capably acted and masterfully directed.