Based on the failed June 28, 2005 mission “Operation Red Wings.” Four members of SEAL Team 10 were tasked with the mission to capture or kill notorious Taliban leader Ahmad Shahd.
Mark Wahlberg is an actor that continues to impress me with every movie he makes. I first remember him making an impact on me with his performances in “The Basketball Diaries” with Leonardo DiCaprio in 1995 and then “Fear” with William Peterson in 1996.
Wahlberg has impressed me not only as an actor but also as a producer of such films as “The Fighter” and “Prisoners” and TV’s “Entourage” and “Boardwalk Empire.” Here, he headlines “Lone Survivor” and is also credited as a producer.
This true story follows four Navy Seals who enter Afghanistan with orders to stake out a village and capture or kill a leading Taliban member thought to be allied with Osama bin Laden. One night, while hiding out, the team encounters three shepherds, including a boy. They debate sparing or killing the shepherds but after a vote, team leader Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch) decides to uphold the rules of engagement and lets the shepherds go. Shortly after, the four SEALs are surrounded by more than 100 Taliban warriors and they must figure out an escape plan while also trying to stay alive.
The film is based on Marcus Luttrell’s nonfiction book of the same name detailing SEAL Team 10’s failed mission “Operation Red Wings” in which Luttrell was the sole survivor.
Director Peter Berg, like Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone and Ben Affleck, is an actor-turned-director who happens to be very good at doing both, especially directing. He directed “The Rundown,” “Friday Night Lights,” “The Kingdom,” “Hancock” and “Battleship.” With “Lone Survivor,” he creates a very claustrophobic atmosphere that at times, is almost unbearable to watch.
He starts the movie off by introducing us to our four protagonists who we get to know as we find out some tidbits about each of their lives before all hell breaks loose. The comradery between them was so realistic and believable that we forget that we’re watching a movie; instead, it feels like we’re looking at video footage of the real guys and we sincerely care about each of them.
Once the shootout begins, our guys are able to take out quite a few of the enemy but in no time, the numbers increase exponentially to the point that they have no choice but to retreat. Berg delivers an unyielding sense of tension and an involving sense of chaos that opens up our awareness of the genuine inhumanity and mental disintegration that comes from being in battle.
Never once does it feel like we’re watching a “Rambo” movie where he takes on an entire army or battalion single-handedly. Here, we see the true horrors of war. When a man gets shot, we see the bullet penetrate and the pain inflicted – he hurts, he bleeds, and all the while watching out for his brothers-in-arms. The violence is authentic, and with every gunshot received and every scrape and wound incurred, we can almost feel them as if they were happening to us.
At one point in the movie, the four seals have retreated so far back that they find themselves literally, on the verge of a sheer slope. Their only viable option? Jump. And unlike most action movies where our hero(es) would vault from the ledge and wind up tumbling a little and then getting back up on their feet, here, we genuinely feel every single crack and broken bone and wallop as they plummet down the slope, smashing into trees and pounding against boulders and jagged edges as if they were bouncing balls. The film is so unrelenting and so visceral and agonizing that I literally had to look away from the screen occasionally.
Each of the performances by our four lead actors here – Wahlberg, Kitsch, Ben Foster and Emile Hirsch – are first rate. They prove that they are very capable actors and that they can each create believable and pragmatic character. But when they’re all together, they have genuine, undeniable chemistry and a deep-rooted brotherly love for each other that makes you like them and care for them even more, despite any of their idiosyncrasies.
Bad things happen in war, and many times, it’s easy for us to imagine the men who are responsible for them are barbarians. But the simple reality is, for the most part, they’re human, and usually scared humans.
In one of the best scenes in the movie, after the Seals have captured the shepherds, they talk through the process of potentially having to kill them as opposed to letting them go and giving up their location. The film gives each character the opportunity to allocate a perfectly coherent reason for their argument. This was good because it added context to the overall story.
In stores on Blu-ray and DVD, Tuesday June 3.
Review By James McDonald