CAPSULE: "The loudest, coldest, darkest, most unpleasant of the unpleasant fights," the main character says. And that may be the best description of LONE SURVIVOR, the true story of Operation Red Wings, a mission to kill an Afghan Taliban leader who had killed twenty Americans the previous week. The film is a harrowing and close-to- true account of a Navy Seal mission in which a lot went wrong and the Seals went through hell. Peter Berg co- produced, wrote, and directed the film. It would be hard to make the story any grimmer on film than it is in this account. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Operation Red Wings, the basis for this film, took place on June 28, 2005. The mission failed and about twenty United States servicemen were killed. A link to the Wikipedia article is below.
The story is a familiar one. Four fighting men (in this case members of Navy SEAL Team 10) train brutally hard, get involved in action, and see the situation go from bad to worse until the men find themselves in a hell on earth. They have to use all their courage and training to survive as well as they can. In this case their success rate is given away by the title of the film.
The LONE SURVIVOR follows the small team of Marcus (played by Mark Wahlberg), Danny (Emile Hirsch), Mike (Taylor Kitsch), and Matt (Ben Foster) as the focus. The story is told in flashback. So we know from the beginning that these men are going into a virtual meat grinder. The film just shows them train, kid around with each other, and then go into a situation that will be very bloody, and more than a little frightening. The target is the Taliban leader Ahmad Shah who the previous week had killed twenty American soldiers.
When the men are put in danger the fault is as much from their own defense systems--like their failing communications links--breaking down as it is from the enemy. Systems failures, bad luck, and occasional mercies going in both directions do as much to seal the task force's fate as the force of the Taliban fighters.
Writer/director Peter Berg gives the film the same shocking to numbing sensibility as THE HURT LOCKER had. It is based on the actual Operation Red Wings that ended tragically. The film is told almost entirely in flashback and we know in the beginning how things will turn out. So that we do not have too much sympathy for the Taliban leader Shah we see him perform a brutal execution just off camera. He keeps the dialog realistic, even if it is occasionally inscrutable with unknown abbreviations and jargon. The story included situations where the soldiers have to make difficult ethical decisions, even while fighting. But the focus is very much on long and harrowing firefight sequences. All told there is not much in this film that we have not seen in other war films, though the degree of blood and gore may be more honest and also more horrifying than we are used to. The cinematography is by Tobias A. Schliessler who is able to give us some natural vistas of great beauty that is a welcome contrast to the ugliness of the battle.
The film does not seem to make a statement that the US should not be involved in Afghanistan, though it could be interpreted that way. I think all Peter Berg is really saying is that we are lucky to have men willing to take on the missions of Navy SEALS. We should respect and appreciate them, a message that goes back at least as far as John Wayne World War II movies. Here the message is just delivered more realistically and more brutally. I would rate this LONE SURVIVOR a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1091191/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/lone_survivor/
Wikipedia on Operation Red Wings: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Red_Wings
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2014 Mark R. Leeper