Director: Peter Berg
Screenwriter: Peter Berg based on the book by Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson
Runtime: 121 mins.
Australian release date: 20 February 2014
Since ‘9/11,’ Hollywood has released a number of films dealing with the ‘war on terror,’ most recently Kathryn Bigelow’s very tense Zero Dark Thirty, based on the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. In Lone Survivor, directed by Peter Berg, the hunt is on for another Taliban leader, this time in the Pech district of Afghanistan’s Kunar Province. Based on the book detailing the harrowing first-person account of Petty Officer First Class, Navy SEAL, Marcus Luttrell, this is a war movie that may not garner any accolades (in fact it has already garnered a bit of criticism, being branded a pro-war propaganda piece by some critics), but it very successfully depicts the sheer violence and madness of battle in the modern age.
The film opens with a highly intensive workout session showing how the navy SEALS are selected. The SEALs, so named because they can operate at sea, in the air and on land, are a body of hard men trained to be fearless and to have a strong mateship bond. Their Australian equivalent would be the men of the SAS. In late June 2005, a small group of these men headed off for a reconnaissance and surveillance trip which dropped them by helicopter into the harsh terrain of the Sawtalo Sar mountain range. The four-man team was comprised of Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), hospital corpsman and sniper, Lt. Michael P. Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), on-ground leader and spotter, Matthew “Axe” Axelson (Ben Foster), sonar technician and trained sniper, and Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch), communications specialist and spotter. The mission was called Operation Red Wings and their target was the notorious Taliban warlord Ahmad Shah (Yousuf Azami), whose demise would have created disruption within the local anti-coalition forces, thus contributing to regional stability in the build-up to the Afghan parliamentary elections. However, a group of shepherds stumbled across the SEALs and this created an ethical problem - to kill them or let them go, knowing that they will immediately disclose their position to the Taliban.
The ensuing battle scenes have to rank as some of the most tense and realistic war footage seen in recent times and they leave you feeling exhausted and drained. Even knowing the battle’s outcome (well, the title gives it away), Wahlberg and his mates provide a completely convincing portrayal of the utter fear and confusion of being in such a situation. The action takes up most of the movie’s length and Tobias Schliessler’s cinematography and Colby Parker Jr’s. editing put you in the thick of it.
Luttrell was awarded the Navy Cross and the Purple Heart for his bravery and the film gives its audience a good insight into the horror of war. The effects are very realistic and, coupled with the gutsy performances, make one wonder about the fact that it has been negatively labelled by some critics. Admittedly, the thoroughly patriotic bookends of the movie could almost be considered propaganda for the US armed forces, but it hardly glorifies war - it’s a harrowing two hours of cinema. Perhaps it can best be described by Royal Marines Commando Alex Cockers, who served in Afghanistan and wrote of his experiences in a poem, The Brutal Game, “I’m out here in Afghanistan now, taking my chances, read what you read, and say what you say, you won’t understand it, until you’ve lived it day by day.” Best to go and see Lone Survivor for yourself and make your own judgment.