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. Marcus Luttrell was the only member of his team to survive.
Year 2, Film #40
THE REVIEW: Lone Survivor is to the War in Afghanistan as Saving Private Ryan is to World War II. This is the most intense, realistic, and in-the-action film I’ve seen in a while and really puts you in the shoes and the minds of what our soldiers go through out in the field — at least, as close as you can get through a movie. Not only does it have action and suspense, but it has a band of characters that take you on an emotional journey through, what they call early on, a “cursed” mission.
Right off the bat, the most obvious thing to talk about is the action. It’s a war film: there’s going to be lots of guns, blood, and gore. Lone Survivor delivers on this big time. Going back to Saving Private Ryan, one of the most memorable and famous scenes from that film is the opening scene — the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. It puts you right in the middle of the action as bullets zip by, you go under water on the way to the shore, and you fall on the sand as you duck for cover. Watching that scene is the closest that any of us who were not there can get to trying to understand what it was like. For Lone Survivor, take that scene and stretch it out across the entire movie. Behind every tree and every rock that the soldiers go behind trying to hide from the Taliban, you go. From beginning to end, you are put in harms way along with Lt. Mike Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), SO1 Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), SO2 Matthew Axelson (Ben Foster), and SO2 Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch). And one of the most interesting side effects of having the action take place throughout the whole film and not really giving any breaks or pauses, is that you feel the stress and fatigue. Being in combat is relentless and you can never let your guard down. Not getting that moment to relax and hear some cliché line reminiscing about home or wanting to see the stars adds a whole other level of intensity.
A big part of this probably has something to do with the fact that there were eight to ten Navy SEALs working on the film with at least three on set at any given time. Lone Survivor is by no means the first film to employ real soldiers to advise, but it’s clear they really took advantage here. Act of Valor had a cast of Navy SEALs and yet it felt forced and unnatural. Part of the reason might be because the SEALs aren’t good actors on camera, but there was still an element, especially with the dialogue, that felt too different. In Lone Survivor, never did any aspect of the film come into question for me: dialogue, reactions, actions (shooting, reloading, etc.).
More impressive than the visual action however was the sound of the action. Sound in war films is usually top notch as a lot of work is done to get every little sound of all the mayhem that happens. But Lone Survivor goes above and beyond and contains some of the most gruesome sounds I’ve ever heard. A big part of the location these four soldiers are in is rock. The film takes place on a mountainside above a nearby village that has steep drops, trees scattered about, and giant boulders cemented in the ground. And the course of events requires the soldiers to, at multiple points, retreat down the mountain very quickly. The only way to do this: jump. And not only do you see every collision of the soldiers against these various surfaces, but you hear the contact with horrific clarity. You can hear bones crack and flesh tear as their bodies are really tossed about. Many times there is no music accompanying these scenes, just the natural sounds, and your focus is directed towards how painful these injuries are.
But Lone Survivor isn’t just about how it looks and sounds, it is also about the characters and the story. If you want to know the plot, read the description above. Basically, these four soldiers are tasked to get a Taliban leader and the subsequent failure that happens. The best way I can think of to describe what the story is like though is to compare it with some other films. Two other films dealing with the War in Afghanistan — The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty (both directed by Kathryn Bigelow) — are both very similar in that they’re driven more by characters and attitudes. Saving Private Ryan is also similar in that regard; it’s about the emotion that comes out of being in a war. Lone Survivor certainly has parts like that, but I would argue the film is more about providing an experience. An experience like the one I’ve been describing all along: one of utter realism that conveys the intensity and pain that’s inflicted in these situations. Gravity is similar in this regard — there isn’t a lot of plot to that film, more of the experience and environment it provides. Both kinds of stories and films have their own merits, and Lone Survivor definitely succeeds at what it set out to accomplish.
There has already been buzz about possible Oscar nominations for Lone Survivor and after seeing that, it is easy to see why. This is one of the most intense and moving films I’ve seen all year and it demands some recognition for that. Coming out of Argo, I knew it would be my pick for Best Picture. Coming out of Lone Survivor, it’s definitely near the top of my list, but there have been so many great competitors this year, that I’m a bit more skeptical as of right now. Still, you should see this movie and see it in theaters.
Lone Survivor opens in theaters in limited release on December 25, 2013. It expands into wide release on January 10, 2014.
THE RATING: 5 out of 5