Editor's note: This review is cross-posted at JohnHanlonReviews.com
Director Peter Berg knows how to celebrate the fraternal affection that men oftentimes share with one another. On the show "Friday Night Lights"—which he executive produced, wrote for and sometimes directed— the male friendships on display were formed on the football field. In Berg’s latest production—the film "Lone Survivor"— those relationships are borne and grown in the military quarters and on the battlefield.
Based on the nonfiction book by Marcus Luttrell, this new drama focuses on a team of Navy SEALs—a band of brothers, if you will—who are sent into Afghanistan to kill a psychotic militant Taliban leader named Ahmad Shahd (Yousuf Azami).
The SEAL team is composed of four men who speak, compete and argue with one another like brothers. Taylor Kitsch, a "Friday Night Lights" alum, is the well-respected commander Michael Murphy who is leading the mission on the ground. Murphy is backed up by the strong-willed Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), the naive Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch), and the fiercely-loyal Matt Axelson (Ben Foster). Their interactions at the beginning— focused on highlighting their affection for one another— feel very real and show how tight these individuals were.
The four men are eventually sent in for their mission, which quickly falls apart when they are accidentally spotted by some kids and an older man from the local Afghan village. The officers are forced to decide what to do— kill the old man and the children or let them free and risk the Taliban wrath— and their decision is a life-changing one. Because of it, the enlisted men eventually face a group of unrepentant Taliban warriors, who show them no mercy.
It’s in the scenes of battle— patriotic and well-filmed— that we witness the carnage of this particular mission. Berg is unrelenting in showing the brutality of the Taliban warriors and the overwhelming insecurity these men faced when their mission failed. Not only were they being hunted by people who wanted them dead but they had no viable escape plan. There’s a sheer helplessness on full display here that is hard to forget.
Although some of the characters are underwritten, there’s a humanity and sympathy that we feel for each of them. When the story opens, Murphy is looking for the perfect wedding present for his fiancé and idealistic enough to believe that buying her an Arabian horse is in his budget (it’s not). Another is worried about the color palette for his home and that sense of blatant household normalcy is what he holds onto, even when the enemy surrounds him and has nearly destroyed him.
It’s hard not to appreciate the sacrifices our military—and their families— make after seeing this brutal and oftentimes realistic feature. The film’s impact might not be remembered as strongly ten years down the line but the immediacy of each man’s love for his brothers and their patriotic fervor for this country will be hard to forget. Berg and his crew— especially the multi-talented Wahlberg— have done a fine job in bringing this heartbreaking and painful story to the big screen. It’s hard to watch but worth it, if only to appreciate the love, humanity and the honor that exists in a world where there can be so much hatred.
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