Film Review: Lone Survivor (USA, 2013)

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Stylish and brutal, Lone Survivor refuses to hold your hand during its harrowing 121 minutes, while you gasp and squirm at the incredibly uncomfortable fate of four U.S Soldiers deployed in the lonely mountains of Afghanistan. Based on the true story of 2005’s failed Operation Red Wings, this film handles the unquestionable dangers of Navy SEAL life by holding no punches, introducing a stunning realism that distinguishes this film from other polished blockbusters like the similar Black Hawk Down.

Sent to the picturesque mountains of Afghanistan, the team of four – which includes Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), Matt Axelson (Ben Foster), Mike Murphy (Taylor Kitsch, and Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) – is sent to track down a Taliban commander in a stealth operation gone wrong.

Much of the film’s first half is dedicated to zoning in on the camaraderie between our four leads, as well as their commander (Eric Bana). A chunk of expository dialogue and obvious foreshadowing does drag things down a bit, but Lone Survivor’s primary success – which is found in the brilliant cinematography – atones for any pitfalls.

After the team’s hopes of a simple mission begin to dissipate, the moral quandary presented when they capture some goat herders – who stumble upon them in the mountains – is handled very well. The team bicker amongst each other about whether they should execute or let their captives go, eventually sealing their fate when they decide to do the civil thing. The repercussions are grave.

It’s quite obvious what angle Peter Berg is going for as he successfully focuses on a sense of visceral intensity, which characterises the well-choreographed action scenes and is evident with each and every bullet.

The team portray their varying levels of confidence throughout the gun fight quite well as they are stalked deeper and deeper towards the cliff faces, which they tumble down like ragdolls in a very cringe-worthy sequence. When the pain, fear, and undying resilience creep in, the cast – especially Whalberg – excel, complementing the realism with a palpable sense of dread that makes for a film that is actually uncomfortable to watch.

The beating that these guys take is depicted in a way that truly puts you on the edge of your seat, despite you knowing how it all ends. Trying to empathise with the seals as they battle for their life is unsettling, even if the team do manage to lighten up some extremely heavy moments with terse humour.

Whalberg shines towards the end, balancing grief and relief quite well in a sequence that is sure to at least give out some warmth after the viewer is put through a distressing and tense ordeal; also preventing the film’s politics from becoming too narrow, as a fortuitous encounter with an anti-Taliban Pashtun tribe serves as a metaphor and reminder of the non-extremist occupants of these countries.

Lone Survivor is relentless and gives out a necessary depiction of the harsh life these Navy SEALs are faced with. Though the film is packed full of failure and helplessness, the bravery these men show coupled with Berg’s masterful direction does give the film a sense of triumph.

Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Lone Survivor opens nationally on Thursday, February 20 with a 121 minute duration.