Verdict: 4 / 5
Lone Survivor revolves around the true story of a small squad of US Navy Seals deployed onto a hillside in Afghanistan in 2005. In the village below is a key Taliban operative whom the four young soldiers are after, but very shortly, a series of events turns the operation into a desperate fight for their lives.
Mark Wahlberg and Taylor Kitsch head up a very good cast which also includes Emile Hirsch and Black Hawk Down alumni Eric Bana. I mention Black Hawk Down because in many ways, the set up of this film is almost identical. It shares a similar structure and story ark. I happen to love Black Hawk Down, so this is far from a criticism, it is merely an obvious observation. The films title sequence is inspired, showing actual Navy Seal training footage from various boot camps and qualitification tests gives you some great insight into how tough these young men actually are and just what they are capable of withstanding. This ‘real life’ knowledge will be helpful later when evaluating the amount of abuse the characters in the film end up taking.
My favourite scene can actually be found near the beginning of the film, as two of the young soldiers race each other around the military base at sunrise – it’s classic Peter Berg and reminds me once again why I love this filmmaker and I love his use of camera and music (shout out to Explosions in the Sky).
The film doesn’t shy away from much. Emotionally and character-wise, there is very real moral complexity when the small band of soldiers need to figure out what to do with the stray Afghan shephers who stuble upon them in the hills. All the actors shine in their well differentiated characters and the moral tussle that is worked out verbally for a while is another stand-out scene. Did they make the right choice in the end? You can be the judge of that.
The title is a clear giveaway as to the number of survivors, but you are consistently (or at least I was) hoping that somehow they would all make it out alive. The characters are constantly overshadowed by the fact that you are pretty certain of their fates from earlier on, and this just further creates anxiety within you as you watch them marching to their doom throughout the course of the film.
The films real strength for me however was that fact that it was just so bone crunchingly visceral. The amount of bullet hits the four soldiers actually take seems ridiculous at points and the long falls that happen after they quite literally just through themselves down sheer cliff faces is brutal – you absolutely feel every impact.
I’m not sure if for some reason I’ve been re-sensitized but every bullet hit and every bone crack made me really feel it – I was physically flinching in my seat.
The panic, the tension and the overwhelming sense of hopelesness is really driven home by the (already mentioned) relentless onslaught of bullets and Peter Berg’s effective handheld photography. In the end, there is (to be expected) a fair amount of American Patriotism, but the film shows both the brutality of members of the Taliban, as well as the amazing self sacrifice of many of the local Afghans, who bravely put their own lives on the line for a young America. It’s a wonderful climax of cross-cultural unity and warms the heart after such a brutal and breathtaking ride.