Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do & die
-“The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Alfred, Lord Tennyson
In the navy
Yes, you can put your mind at ease
In the navy
Come on be bold and make a stand
In the navy, in the navy
Can’t you see we need a hand
In the navy
Come on, protect the motherland
In the navy
Come on and join your fellow man
In the navy
– “In the Navy,” The Village People
Peter Berg’s “Lone Survivor” is one of the most chest-thumping, jingoistic, “Merica, F**K YEAH!” movies in recent memory. And, I have absolutely no problem with that. As I recently said to a colleague who was put off by just how right-wing-heart-on-sleeve the film is, I’ll take Berg’s no apologies conservative, home team political manipulations over those of any other drippy, lefty, liberal preaching to the choir manipulations that we get in droves each year come awards season.
And it’s true. Even though I’m in no way, shape or form Republican, right-wing or conservative, I’m still all for a filmmaker who wants to step out on that platform and deliver a film that is not only incredibly entertaining and enthralling, but also has a point of view. The fact this view is outside the norm for Hollywood makes it all the more interesting. Peter Berg has made an old-fashioned kick a*s war movie and a damned fine one at that.
“Lone Survivor” tells the true story of Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell (Wahlberg), who is the leader (and unfortunately the titular character here, which is a big flaw of the film in my opinion) of a Navy SEAL Team sent in to take down a singular Taliban enemy, one of America’s most wanted, Ahmad Shah. Once the team is assembled of young, good looking actors that we don’t want to see die once we get to know them, they’re off to the brutal terrain of mountainous Afghanistan.
Once in-country the SEAL team sets off on their mission, which kind of falls apart from the get go. But this team of four has pride, ego, talent and perseverance. They refuse to back down from tracking their target as step by rocky step as the mission falls apart. In many ways the film is an anti “Saving Private Ryan” in that throughout that film, the notion of risking several lives to save one man is questioned. Here death is probable and to my memory, it’s never questioned why they are after one guy, it’s just accepted that they are.
While Wahlberg is clearly the star, this is really an ensemble film and I felt all the SEAL Team members (Ben Foster, Taylor Kitsch and Emile Hirsch) were the better cast members. Each has a unique way about them and Berg gets outstanding performances across the board. For my money Kitsch is the real star here and it’s easy to see why the fortunes of the maligned (somewhat unfairly) “John Carter” rested on his hunky shoulders. The guy’s got chops, has a real everyman vibe to him and is damn good looking. “Lone Survivor” should put him back on the track to the A-List, barring any more sidetracks like “The Savages.” But perhaps the biggest star of the film is the stunt work.
If there was an Oscar for stunts, “Lone Survivor” would win it hands down. The film has some of the most convincingly painful tumbles you’re ever going to see. In fact I’m still not sure how some of the films rougher scenes were shot. For once the use of shaky POV camera adds to the realistic feel as it should instead of feeling gimmicky. Throughout you literally feel along for the ride as a character falls off a small cliff or rolls down a wickedly rocky terrain, hitting every log and jagged piece of shale along the way.
The mission and it’s execution is also compelling and very well done. All of these components mixed with great character development, direction and a simple story are what pull you into this film wholeheartedly. But while “Lone Survivor” really is “just a war movie,” the aforementioned politics and manipulations therein are what make it genuinely intriguing.
The film opens with real actual footage of Navy SEALS going through grueling training. Many have cited this scene and the ending one (which is a death reel of the actual soldiers lost on this mission) as too manipulative. To this I say: well, duh. Because at its core “Long Survivor” is about a military team, who are also friends who trust each other with their lives, getting unceremoniously picked off. But they have a mission to do and the only thing that will stop them is death.
Aside from my wife and child there’s no cause I’m willing to die for, especially one as ambiguous and vague as “My Country.” But in real life these guys are out there putting it on the line every day because they made a promise to honor and defend America. Rather than have some mortally wounded character in the film deliver a treacly speech about this before he takes his final breath, Berg shows us the real men training to do what the characters in this film (and the ones in real life) actually did. In case we’ve forgotten this is a true story, due to all the handsome actors, he also adds real photos of the men who died on this mission to root the film in realism even more. It’s wholly manipulative but completely fair and effective for what this film is trying to say and do.
I don’t consider myself a real big “war buff” or even a huge fan of war movies. But when a war movie is done extremely well, it’s difficult to not get pulled in. “Lone Survivor” pulled me in completely. I was rooting for these guys and I felt every painful blow they were dealt. Several times I felt like Berg was channeling Sam Peckinpah as well as tipping his cap to the realism of Samuel Fuller but again, this all has a really jingoistic, “go team America” feel, something those directorial greats shied away from. Aside from the title which leaves as much to the imagination as “Snakes on a Plane” or “John Dies at the End,” “Lone Survivor” is a true thrill ride, one that I think will go down as one of the finest war movies ever made.