The film adaptation of the book Lone Survivor, by the survivor himself Marcus Luttrell, was written and directed by Peter Berg. That meant it would be slick, well shot and paced, and that the action sequences would be powerful moments in the film.
Surely it couldn't disappoint. Mind you, Berg had given us Battleship.
There are some expectations that come with this film and they aren't positive ones. There are several points that stick out almost immediately about the film. There's the work that Peter Berg has delivered before, and I'm not being negative about his previous films and television because in fact I like a lot of his work; of Mark Wahlberg in the lead; of a Hollywood studio film about American soldiers at war against terrorists, plus you are undoubtedly thinking that there is going to be a fair share of action, and you would be right in that assumption. Now with all these elements you are probably thinking as I was, it's going to mean an all-American, gung-ho action film.
I can say right up front that you're wrong. I know because I felt a little like that before I went into the screening despite the fact that I was hoping so much that it wouldn't be that way. I was delighted that it wasn't and it not only made the film a lot easier to sit through but it actually ended up delivering a really good film.
There are a few moments where you do think it's going too Hollywood, particularly at the beginning where we're running through shots of Navy SEAL training. I could feel myself starting to get downbeat about it but at the same time holding onto a hope that it would be more realistic and hard hitting, and that remained a constant through this footage.
In the film itself the gung-ho, all-American ideology is gone apart from moments it creeps into the characters and these are brief and also quite in context with the character and their situation. I was both surprised and delighted to find that the film-makers had held back the script, the direction and the performances in this way. Suddenly the film was much more accessible to non-American audiences and felt very truthful to the people actually there.
Come some of the action and combat sequences some moments do make you think like this but again this has a strong basis in reality and considering what we've seen of the SEALs so far it keeps it in character.
Okay, I think I've answered what might have been the biggest concern about the film, now let me answer another, Mark Wahlberg.
I think there's divided opinion about this actor, some like him others don't, and I do believe that's down to what films you've seen him in because that's how his films and performances go. Contrast The Departed (Filmstalker review) or The Fighter (Filmstalker review) against his performance in The Happening (Filmstalker review) and if you can easily see why you might like or dislike him.
It's not that easy though, Wahlberg is a good actor who has appeared in some poor films and given some poor performances, but when he's on form in a good film it works, and it helps if the film has him as the rough, everyday action type guy. That's the kind of character he plays here and it works perfectly. Unlike some other roles I've seen him in he looks and sounds convincing from in and out of the combat scenes. In Lone Survivor he is very good and stands well alongside the team of actors around him including Ben Foster, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Eric Bana.
Talking of combat, a great portion of the film does comprise of combat scenes, and while that could normally be taken as a negative point here it's actually one of the strengths of the film. The sequences are exciting, tense and frightening. They manage to convey the confusion and chaos of close combat, never mind the violent and visceral nature of a fire-fight. The film manages to draw you into that situation, whether this is really what it's like is an unknown to me but after watching this film it feels like this could be one of the closest to making you understand the reality of close combat warfare that I've seen. The weight put on these individual soldiers for the need for split second decision making which could cost lives, especially their own and the consequences that brings does come through well in the film, there's not a Hollywood landing bag at the end of each amazing stunt.
There are moments though that bring down these feelings during the extended combat sequences. The couple of slow motion death scenes, particularly the mountain top scene, which feel much more cinematic and a little contrived. Yet these scenes are brief and even with them the complete film remains far from the G.I. Joe or standard action film that you would normally expect to see. Here the characters make mistakes, they get hurt and shot, they do die.
Apart from the few moments mentioned previously which overplayed the story there is strong direction from Peter Berg that keeps the pace going, draws you in amongst the characters, and brings out that feeling of being surrounded and isolated. He delivers a strong pace that adds to that excitement and dread which carries through the film. To add to that the effects and make-up are superbly realistic, frighteningly so at some points in the film although don't get me wrong, this isn't a gory film, but it does need to be realistic and make you feel the impact and the pain of some of the harder hitting moments.
As usual the film isn't over with the end of the story but in this case that doesn't mean there's a pre or post credits additional scene to the film. We're hit with some powerful reality as we see pictures of the soldiers who died in the battle and it's a moving and poignant sequence. Those who were involved in making the decision to include these photos made an excellent choice as it hammers home the reality to the audience and gives that extra weight to the story, even after it has finished.
However it still has something to give us and after the photographs of the soldiers has passed there is a moment that acknowledges the part the Afghani villagers played in the rescue and takes some time to explain to the audience why they did this. The effect this has is to take the preconception of Afghani people out of the Hollywood context and, like the photographs of the soldiers do, power down some reality to the audience. I found this as powerful as the previous sequence of photographs and equally as emotional. Not only was this a brave decision in terms of Hollywood, but also a moralistically right one and I applaud them for it. How easy would it have been to adapt the story portraying the Taliban and Afghani people as villains or uninterested bystanders.
Lone Survivor is a powerful and surprisingly strong film with a good amount of emotional engagement. It successfully manages to draw you close to the situation that the soldiers find themselves in and presents a harsh and frightening experience of close quarters combat. These are highly trained American soldiers but the Hollywood all-American gung-ho attitude is almost entirely left out in favour of portraying a more chaotic, frantic and all together messier situation.
Peter Berg has adapted the true story of Marcus Luttrell and his team well for the cinema and it takes time to present the soldiers and the Afghani people in a much less Hollywood, two dimensional way. The cast perform well too and convince you of the chaos and fear that they feel, and at the same time the unflappable belief in survival and their team.
There are still elements of Hollywood action in there but it is much more realistic and tense than most films, and while there is some end social commentary, the rest of the film concentrates on these soldiers and what they had to experience, doing a great job of making you experience just a tiny fraction of what they did. I really did enjoy Lone Survivor and you should see it even just for the closing moments.
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