Lone Survivor

Review by Paul Fairclough @JacquesGites

Directed by

Peter Berg

Starring

Ben Foster Eric Bana Mark Wahlberg

Anticipation.

This SEAL lionising is getting old.

Enjoyment.

Overlong yet relentless bone-crunching action.

In Retrospect.

No Black Hawk Down but no Act of Valor either.

There are nuggets of honesty amid the gung-ho jingoism in Peter Berg’s starry-eyed war story.

It’s called Lone Survivor and it stars Mark Wahlberg so, with no disrespect to Eric Bana and Ben Foster who also feature, we can probably dispense with all that Spoiler Alert business from the off. In fact director Peter Berg sensibly opts to open with Wahlberg’s title character, US Navy SEAL (for it is they, again) Marcus Luttrell, being choppered to safety after a disastrous mission that has claimed the rest of his team.

Luttrell’s flashback to the mission’s inception, kidding around with his buddies at an Afghan air base, is thus already infused with foreboding, and the story is a real one; Luttrell and his three companions really did head off in 2005 to assassinate a key Taliban commander, things really did go horribly wrong for them and a load more people who came to rescue them really did die. It was the kind of all-American fuck-up that, as Ridley Scott proved with Black Hawk Down, can be a gift to a filmmaker.

Berg has form with dust-caked male bonding, in Friday Night Lights and The Kingdom, so it’s no surprise that his set-up here is impressively handled. One sequence, in which two bare-chested SEALs race one another at dawn around the airbase perimeter, neatly posits these men as heirs to the heroes of Greek antiquity — perfect specimens infused with the desire to win at all costs. If that sounds too brittle a dramatic core, Berg tempers the spartan ideal with some pretty hokey but probably authentic touches: the soldiers quote Ron Burgundy, bellyache about domestic chores back home, Skype their families and, in a scene that is later echoed darkly, argue over whether to shave off a comrade’s eyebrows as a forfeit.

It’s when the shooting starts that things go awry. That the film is a long, ferocious gunfight bookended by some character exploration isn’t a problem in itself — Scott’s film was exactly that and none the worse for it — but Berg has trouble maintaining a dynamic that hooks the audience in. By the time Luttrell and his crew are surrounded for the third time, we’re clockwatching and wondering when we’re going to get to the Alamo bit. But the Taliban keep coming, getting mowed down at a rate that, in the real world, would have ended the war 10 years ago. (Just as relentless, but less gripping, is the evident hero complex Berg and Wahlberg have concerning these men.)

Both have made much of how they spent time with families of the dead and with serving SEALs but, on this evidence, a little distance would have made for a better movie. When the long end credit sequence features family snaps of the real men who died, soundtracked to Peter Gabriel’s version of ‘Heroes’, it’s clear that at some point Berg switched from filmmaking to hagiography, and that he’s much better at making movies than he is at making saints.

Lone Survivor is far superior to the bullying, bombastic movies about the US military that are all too common right now but the self-flagellating, morbidly starry eyed aspects of the film eventually win out and devalue its many moments of honest storytelling.

Published 30 Jan 2014

Tags: Mark Wahlberg Peter Berg

Anticipation.

This SEAL lionising is getting old.

Enjoyment.

Overlong yet relentless bone-crunching action.

In Retrospect.

No Black Hawk Down but no Act of Valor either.

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