Rated: R for strong bloody war violence and pervasive language. Reviewed by: Jim Release date: December 25, 2013 Released by: Universal Studios, Inc.
Set primarily in the Afghanistan/Pakistan border and shot mainly in New Mexico with an authentic look and feel for what went on during "Operation Red Wings" in the early summer of 2005 is another film in the ilk of Act of Valor or Zero Dark Thirty. One that undeniably executes a visually polished production at the expense of dramatic fulfillment.
But, Lone Survivor, helmed by scribe Peter Berg (up from a flimsy overblown Battleship) extending a rugged determinism and noticeable comrade-in-arms to a band of bearded Navy SEALs (Seal Team 10) more often in its costly result bears more of a similarity to Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down (a botched mission during the Clinton administration in Mogadishu, Somalia to capture associates of a vicious warlord, though many may argue the comparison of the grim, tragic results of being on the front lines of war).
Mark Wahlberg, one of its producers, meets the rigorous demands of his Petty Officer Marcus Luttrell with relative ease not having lost much physically since (late 20th century) Three Kings which had its share of grueling episodes. What the actor went through in less thoughtful pictures like Shooter is child's play compared to what is dealt with here.
The lives of intrepid, well-trained men (with pre-credits blissful stills) isn't really the greater concern of Berg who immerses the viewer into another mission-gone-wrong. One that's based on the real events documented in the tome of the same title by Luttrell and Patrick Robinson. These fighting men, a quartet under the cool direction of Lt. Commander. Erik Christensen (Erik Bana), were to capture or eliminate a savvy al-Qaeda operative, notorious Taliban leader Ahmad Shah (Yousuf Azami). Shah was responsible for the cold-blooded termination of some 20 marines a week earlier.
The planning of the attack and its execution from the craggy, mountainous environs turns out to be tantamount to a costly campaign perhaps signaled from a moral decision by team leader Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch of John Carter). There'll be plenty of firefights in Kunar to the death with infantry, pepper-mouthed colleagues Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch of Into The Wild) and Matthew "Axe" Axelson (Ben Foster of The Messenger) as the camera periodically returns to the Bagram military base.
When Lone Survivor really gets down and dirty (read: bloody) it very well embraces salutes gamers who realize the same intensity in 'Call To Duty' with an unrelenting violent surge for a couple of reels as SEALs become greatly outnumbered. From its namesake it may be a predicable grim forecast with set pieces that showcase Berg's increasing skills behind the camera varying sequence pacing by implementing rapid cutting and slow motion.
Everyone with a turban (like presumably innocent herders earlier on) doesn't turn out to be as they may be perceived and the filmmaking acknowledges the disconnect and barriers that both sides face. Like when one character doesn't get what he thinks he does to try to mend himself a bit. After bodies have been torn up by plenty of artillery, including grenade rocket launchers where the efforts of make-up effect artists Gregory Nicotero and Howard Berger add to the wrenching portrait especially from the impact of human flesh hitting rock.
The wounds of an ongoing conflict continue to relate horrors for a new generation and are opened in very unnerving ways to make the experience penetrating as draining as the overall effect may be. Even with Wahlberg leading a young, committed and distinguished cast of non-stereotypes, a prevailing tone light on character and culture projects a vivid reflection of Luttrell's extraordinary circumstances from being ambushed to winding up in a cave.
Ultimately, the result may fall short of the visceral pulse-pounding complexity of war as Scott demonstrated in Black Hawk. Yet, similarly it can educe detachment from the relentlessly fraught realism narrow-minded in its ideological and thematic intent in an intense framing of serious, action drama.