I came out of Peter Berg’s Lone Survivor thinking three things: 1. War is hell. 2. Everyone should be forever grateful for the men and women who risk their lives everyday to secure our safety and the freedoms that make this country great. And 3. This average movie exploits my first two thoughts to carry its subpar direction, writing, and acting. It’s as if Peter Berg read this harrowing true story, then went into the woods to play army with actor friends and a several million-dollar budget.
The title is a spoiler alert in and of itself, but Lone Survivor chronicles the 2005 ill-fated mission of four Navy SEALs behind enemy lines in Afghanistan, tasked with taking out a Taliban leader. When the team, made up of real-life soldiers Marcus Lattrell (Mark Wahlberg), Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch), and Matt Axelson (Ben Foster), encounter a group of seemingly-innocent sheep herders on the mountain that they are perched on, the SEAL team must decide whether to terminate the threat to retain cover or appeal to their moral sensibilities and effectively fail the mission, putting themselves in danger as well. The film becomes one explosive set piece after another from there on out.
Each fire fight is handled with unflinching, bone-crunching violence, which certainly drives home the valor of the young men who actually lived through this terrible situation. Unfortunately, the camera is so close to the action that I was never quite sure where the soldiers were relative to their enemies and how close they were to the perilous cliffs behind them. Close-ups of Mark Wahlberg shooting an M-16, then cutting to a terrorist getting shot, is effective action cinematography for only so long.
The acting is largely serviceable, with Wahlberg leading the pack as the most believable soldier. Taylor Kitsch is also surprisingly good as the heartthrob Murphy, and Ben Foster is effective, if a bit melodramatic, as the company’s best shot. I must single out Emile Hirsch, who is downright terrible in this flick, as the weakest link that almost compromises the brotherly chemistry between the team. Considering that the brotherhood is what makes us really care for these guys quickly, it’s an unforgivable trespass. Add to that cartoonish amounts of bullet wounds withstood and completely unapologetic product placement (seriously… the characters promoted Anchorman twice DURING the movie, in addition to no less than a dozen companies getting close ups for their cool clothing and electronics), and you have a great true story turned into a run-of-the-mill military actioner.
I really wanted to like Lone Survivor, as I’m a sucker for true stories about the great people that serve our country. Unfortunately, my smaller gripes add up to keep this film from being anything other than a half-decent action movie that will inevitably be forgotten. It all comes back to director Peter Berg, who could have opened up the camera, toned down the melodrama, and removed the incessant product placement for a much more heart-wrenching portrayal. These soldiers deserved better.
Lone Survivor opens today in Philly area theaters.