The sound of bones crunching against a tree, as a man’s body tumbles down an unforgiving hill; not once, but twice. This is the sound that haunts you after watching Lone Survivor, superseding the gunfire, explosions, helicopter propellers, and painful screams of four men being ambushed in Afghanistan by Taliban forces. It could easily go unnoticed, this sound, if it were not blatantly on display, or if the scene was anything less than horrific. The success of displaying the carnage, the way in which each man’s body was pummeled, bruised, battered, and riddled with gunfire, is to show the perseverance they displayed, the outward courage of these Navy SEALs, that takes on an entirely new level of empathy from the viewer. A simple war movie Lone Survivor is not, nor does it allow for distance; this is not WWII or the Vietnam War, this war is still raging, men like these are doing just the same today, and will tomorrow. Lone Survivor is so affecting because there is not the possibility for distance, and the filmmaker’s make sure to drop you into the line of fire right along with the Navy SEALs, and the one lone survivor who would live on as a hero, and his troops story a beacon of truth as to how Afghanistan is a country at war with itself and outside forces, and one unfortunate enough to have the Taliban in its midst.
Writer/Director Peter Berg tackles the true story of a Navy SEALs mission gone wrong in Lone Survivor; as based on the memoir of Marcus Luttrell, “Lone Survivor“, the sole survivor of said mission. The movie begins as any other war movie would, introducing the characters who we will follow on the mission, the situation at hand, that being the capture of notorious Taliban leader Ahmed Shaw and al-Qaeda operative, amidst the all too familiar gaiety and joking atmosphere that establishes a bond between the men. They talk about an upcoming wedding; Mike Murphy (Taylor Kitsch) wants to buy a horse for his fiancé, yet has no idea how much they cost. Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) is given the task of assisting his wife in choosing a paint color for their house, going so far as to bring the color sample sheet with him on the mission. There is always the more reclusive tough guy, as is seen in Ben Foster’s Matt Axelson, and lastly Marcus Littrell (Mark Wahlberg), whose life is more left a mystery, wherein the other men are given greater focus in the beginning while Marcus will have his moment in the end. Lone Survivor does not appear to be anything out of the ordinary for a war movie that takes place in Afghanistan, until the mission begins and suddenly everything goes wrong.
The plan is all in place, and nothing would seem to be all that difficult. The men will have the possibility of losing communication during the hike through the mountains of Afghanistan but it should only be brief. They have enough gear and supplies to succeed, as they are told there are only a handful of armed men at the town. In all fairness, Lone Survivor is a bit cliche in the beginning; the only hope of identifying with the characters is if you can in fact identify with them. There is a changing point, though, when the men come in contact with a herd of goats, and the Taliban supporting shepherd’s. It is here that the core of the story is revealed, wherein the men must choose whether to kill the men or set them free; and one is no more than a teenager–a fact that does not go overlooked, with a mention of CNN included. To kill them would mean to break the rules of engagement; setting them free would give them the freedom to alert the Taliban as to the SEALs presence. It is a moral judgment call, and one not taken lightly by any. The discussion they have, the heated debate, the argument, is full of conjecturing possibilities. As a viewer your ears perk up, your blood begins to pump harder, and suddenly you are desperately seeking air to try and reconcile the suffocating feeling of absolute panic these men are feeling inside while trying to make a rational decision. Lone Survivor suddenly gets very interesting, and not just because of the gorgeous camerawork by Tobias A. Schliessler.
After the decision is made, and the men have left their fate in the hands of time–whether or not they can get far enough ahead before the Taliban informant reaches the village, the movie takes a turn for the dramatic, and brutal. The four SEALs have no idea what they are in for, and how the Taliban forces are huge in numbers, supplied with weapons far beyond those of the SEALs. What transpires is all-out war, on a hillside. Each SEAL gives everything, surviving gun shot womb after gun shot womb, and never succumbs to the pain inflicted on his body during the attack. They fight back with everything they have, their goal only to survive, to reach an area where they can communicate with their base and receive help. But help may not be the best thing for them, as is shown in shocking detail when even more tragedy strikes.
Lone Survivor is expertly crafted to place the viewer in the midst of the mens struggles. The movie opens with a montage of clips displaying SEAL training methods, showing you what they train for and how they are tortured even before stepping foot on a battlefield. The ringing of the bell, the acceptance of defeat and the inability to continue on is a focal point of said montage. You are prepared for what these men can endure, but seeing it happen, witnessing the way they are tested, emotionally, physically, and psychologically, is something you cannot prepare yourself for no matter how educated you are on the subject. Writer/Director Peter Berg manages to create a war movie that is not about the war but about the men fighting in it, and how they possess courage and fortitude. He does things in the bloodiest and most disturbing way possible, achieving an effectiveness rarely seen on screen. The true triumph of Lone Survivor, though, is in the final moments when help arrives in the unlikeliest of places for SEAL Marcus Littrell.
Afghanistan, the country, is not run by the Taliban; they just happen to be there in large numbers and the war on their soil. What Lone Survivor shows the viewer is how the people of Afghanistan are fighting against them just as much as we are; and they will stop at nothing to keep the fight alive and claim their freedom from the Taliban’s hold on their country. It is the kindness of strangers that saves Littrell’s life, and it comes in the form of an Afghan village who is ready to fight for the future they want. This is the moment Lone Survivor makes good on its promise of being more than just a war movie, it is a movie about morality and choice. A film that overcomes itself–the violence and hatred it contains–to display how misconception about a people can lead to seeing them for who they really are aside from your own prejudice. Lone Survivor should be seen to witness the courage of the four Navy SEALs, men who were trapped like wounded animals but never gave up in the face of imminent defeat. It should also be seen because it is a lesson is opening one’s mind to the fact that those whom we are at war with, those who wish to harm us, are doing the same to others in their own country. This is not our war, but a world war in a very different scope than we have seen before. Lone Survivor gives us that first glimpse into a world of truth that exists, and it is done with great success.
AFI FEST 2013 Film Page: Lone Survivor
Release date: December 27, 2013 (Limited), January 10, 2014 (Wide)
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster, Ali Suliman, Alexander Ludwig and Eric Bana
Directed by: Peter Berg
Screenplay by: Peter Berg
Based on the Book “Lone Survivor” by: Marcus Luttrell with Patrick Robinson
Produced by: Peter Berg, Sarah Aubrey, Randall Emmett, Norton Herrick, Barry Spikings, Akiva Goldsman, Mark Wahlberg, Stephen Levinson, Vitaly Grigoriants
Executive Producers: George Furla, Simon Fawcett, Braden Aftergood, Louis G. Friedman, Remington Chase, Stepan Martirosyan, Adi Shankar, Spencer Silna, Mark Damon, Brandt Andersen, Jeff Rice
Based on The New York Times bestselling true story of heroism, courage and survival, Lone Survivor tells the incredible tale of four Navy SEALs on a covert mission to neutralize a high-level al-Qaeda operative who are ambushed by the enemy in the mountains of Afghanistan. Faced with an impossible moral decision, the small band is isolated from help and surrounded by a much larger force of Taliban ready for war. As they confront unthinkable odds together, the four men find reserves of strength and resilience as they stay in the fight to the finish.
Mark Wahlberg stars as Marcus Luttrell, the author of the first-person memoir “Lone Survivor,” whose book has become a motivational resource for its lessons on how the power of the human spirit is tested when we are pushed beyond our mental and physical limits. Starring alongside Wahlberg as the other members of the SEAL team are Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster.