Sunday, January 19, 2014

Lone Survivor

Year: 2014
Director: Peter Berg
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Taylor Kitsch, Emil Hirsch, Ali Suliman, Eric Bana

Plot: Based on the true story of the failed Operation Red Wings, where four Navy SEALS are trapped in Afghanistan, left to fend for themselves after their presence is discovered by the Taliban.

Review: Like many American war films before it, Lone Survivor pays tribute to their fallen heroes in the line of duty. For me, this film reminds me of Black Hawk Down, one of my all time favorites, due to the many similarities between them.

Director Peter Berg has gone to great lengths to ensure this story is told as accurately as possible, though there are a few minor deviations. He based his film on Marcus Luttrell's book of the same name, Luttrell being the titular lone survivor. While the book gives a far more detailed account of life as a Navy SEAL, Berg focuses on this particular failed mission. I have no idea where Berg filmed this, but the location seems quite authentic. The rocky mountains used to represent Afghanistan look accurate enough, with great camerawork by Tobias Schliessler to capture the scenery as well as the intense firefights that take place.

The story is as follows: four Navy SEALS, Luttrell, Murphy, Dietz and Axelson, are sent to Afghanistan on a recon mission to find Ahmad Shah, who is responsible for killing 10 SEALS. They successfully obtain his location, only for them to be subsequently discovered by three goatherds. After deliberating it, they decide to release the goatherds out of mercy, thereby risking their lives when the Taliban surround them and they have to fight to survive.

Like Black Hawk Down, the four men's experience is brutal and unflinching. You will see lots of blood, wounds and broken limbs as the men are shot at by the Taliban, then taking more injury as they tumble down the rocky side of the mountain. If you're squeamish, this is definitely not the film for you. It is to Berg's credit, as well as the make up guys for pulling off this feat. Speaking of which, the action sequences were well shot, the intensity of the moment very well documented by Berg and his team. Every bullet, explosion and fall is shown in gory detail.

The acting is solid all around of course. Mark Wahlberg deserves most of the applause for a job well done, but Ben Foster, Emil Hirsch and Taylor Kitsch deserve just as much credit for their excellent work. The relationship between the four men are akin to brotherhood, and it shows on screen. Special mention goes to Ali Suliman, who was in Berg's The Kingdom, as Gulab, a kind Afghan who protects Luttrell from the Taliban in the film's third act. Despite barely able to speak English, he comes across as an honorable man, and a key player in Luttrell's story.

The main drawback here is the lack of characterization as Berg focuses more on the mission itself. We do get a few things like Murphy thinking of buying a horse for his wife, Dietz contemplating the color his wife wants to paint their house etc, but it's few and far between. Still, it doesn't take away the sense of unity between the four men, and their harrowing journey during that mission is overall well presented.

It's a solid and realistic war film that's based on real events, and should be watched on the big screen for best results. Recommended. (4/5)    

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