In “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” Oscar Wilde writes, “Nowadays people know the value of everything and the value of nothing.” This quote still applies to life today as the weight of bills, change, gold, silver, etc. outweigh the value of intangibles like love, courage, determination and loyalty. Director Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights, Hancock, The Rundown) brings our attention back to what’s truly valuable in life in Lone Survivor, one of the greatest recollections of modern warfare since (but not topping) Saving Private Ryan.
Late June 2005, Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), Mike Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) and Matt “Axe” Axelson (Ben Foster) are dropped into hostile Taliban territory deep in Afghanistan with a mission to kill or capture notorious Navy SEAL killer and terrorist leader Ahmad Shah. All the team has to do is put a positive ID on the target and standby for reinforcements. Radio connectivity is on the fritz and civilians that are possible enemies end up right on their position.
With the clock ticking, communication non-existent and difficult decision after difficult decision constantly waiting to be made on the fly, these four brothers refuse to give up on themselves, their families, country and most of all, each other.
Some might think that going all the way back to Saving Private Ryan is a mistake; that there are plenty of war movies that bring just as much to the table as these two films have. Let me tell you, there aren’t.
Throw any recent war-related film in the mix and it’ll fall miles short. Zero Dark Thirty was well-done, but was a dry, regurgitation of events. Act of Valor was there conceptually, but failed to deliver pizzazz that sustained any memorability. This movie had everything going for it and actually made you feel like you were there, in the moment, experiencing the hectic life-or-death situation that these men were in. Any movie can show you something, but few have the ability to transport you out of the theater.
Starting with the obvious, the cast is extremely well-rounded. Hirsch and Foster have had their shining moments in the industry. Both starred in Alpha Dog, where Foster won Breakthrough Male Performance in 2006. Hirsch has his share of awards for his performances in Sean Penn’s Into the Wild and with Sean Penn in Milk. Neither may be as known to the masses as Wahlberg or Kitsch, but the level of acting from everyone, including Eric Bana, who gets much less screen time as a base commander, is well above par.
Like I said, this is a rare film that puts you in the moment. Having mentioned that, there a lot of smaller elements that set it apart and brought it success. The first are the sound effects. I’m not lying when I say the theater becomes a battlefield, because it does. Grenades are being thrown, guns are going off more than half the time, and RPGs (Rocket-Propelled Grenades) hiss through the sky before exploding. These sounds are about as real as they come and don’t look or sound as doctored as ones you might see in Expendables or [insert Jason Statham movie here].
The other element that ties the realism of this film together is the visuals. Explosions kick up just enough dust, bullets that both hit and miss look authentic, and the physical toll of all of this violence on the soldiers is better than any seriously attempted horror flick. Whether it’s the cuts across their faces after cliff-diving, stray bullets catching body parts, or Wahlberg fishing cell phone-sized pieces of shrapnel out of his leg with a knife, the visuals are incredibly realistic and will, without a doubt, make you cringe.
Not only does the film make you feel war, but also the strength and power of companionship. During firefights the squad will talk to one another, making to keep their eyes on the prize and their hearts at ease, anything to keep hope alive. While their voices rarely ever falter in strength, the toll this experience takes reveals weak smiles and half-hearted pats on the back from some of the strongest people that serve our country.
With the title being Lone Survivor, it’s hard not to assume only one of the four in the group lives. Without ruining the ending, the man who lived actually had a hand in making this movie and along with being a very key source in retelling the account, he actually wrote a book that assisted Berg in his vision. Although not better than Saving Private Ryan, this movie wins in pretty much every area when it comes to memorable war films.
Real footage of SEAL training leads the story off in the most righteous way, showing the brutality of their training, but also foreshadowing why they are trained so ruthlessly. To close out, real pictures of the actual soldiers that were on the mission are displayed in a slide-show to drive the point home.
This actually happened, and the movie is an amazing tribute to those willing to put their lives on the line for their country and the person beside them.