By EpicSteve 5 Comments
I really enjoyed Lone Survivor. As an Afghan vet, I truly appreciated a lot of the movie's attention to detail and for depicting one of the war's more infamous battles. This reads a little more formal than I usually write for this is a draft of what's going in a local paper.
Director Peter Berg’s adaptation of the infamous 2005 battle in Afghanistan has a genuine feeling of authenticity and care. It’s more grueling than entertaining. Lone Survivor is a true story and mostly isn’t a “feel good” kind of film, it’s an intentionally stressful take on a real life event. This isn’t a pleasant movie to watch, but is an important display of the horrifying and adrenaline filled environment of combat. I mean those criticisms in the best way possible. All those elements combine into an experience with real emotional resonance.
Based on the memoirs written by Navy SEAL Medic Marcus Luttrell whom is also the protagonist, Berg’s film intelligently zeroes in on the battle itself and the four American men that fought it. Berg drops the audience into a brutal and unforgiving battle that took the lives of 19 servicemen, making it the most devastating day for Navy SEALs since WWII. It communicates a visceral, worst-case scenario situation like Black Hawk Down (2001) but a little less loud and bombastic.
Their reconnaissance mission was to scale a mountain in Afghanistan’s deadly Kunar province to identify insurgent leader, Ahmad Shah. The mission goes awry when the SEAL Team is discovered by goat herders. Despite having suspicions these herders are Taliban supporters, the SEALs are then faced with a difficult decision whether or not to kill the unarmed “civilians”.
Following their moral compass, the SEALs let the herders go and hopes karma will be kind to their mission. Immediately, these Afghans report to a Taliban group about the American’s location. The SEALs are virtually surrounded immediately.
Even for folks that aren’t familiar with the real events the film depicts, its very obvious where the movie goes by title and trailer alone. Lone Survivor’s major plot points aren’t a secret. However, Berg expertly maintains a high-level stress environment. The story arc knows that you are likely aware of Marcus Luttrell’s life, so it’s going to tell this story from the angle of the stress and agony the SEALs went through that day. This story is more about the journey than the destination.
A couple of times throughout the movie, the SEAL team has no other choice than to jump down a mountain to avoid being killed or captured by Taliban. In various real-life interviews, Marcus Luttrell explained that every time their body made contact with the ground, another few bones broke and most direct encounters with the enemy left a few more bullet holes in their bodies. Every broken bone, every gunshot, is gratuitously depicted for maximum impact.
Despite that, there’s very little gore. The visuals and sound design mold together in creative ways to make you aware of the wounds these men are receiving without being gross or exploitative.
Several actors were even injured during filming. The stunt coordinator didn’t use dummies or wires for the falling sequences. Kevin Scott, was charged with these sequences and to depict realism, he tasked his stuntmen with falling 15-20ft sometimes. To properly mimic how the SEALs fell, Scott wanted gravity to take over and told his stuntmen, “Wherever you fall, just go with it”.
It’s that kind of attention to detail that makes Lone Survivor shine. While I was not a part of Operation Red Wings, I have been to the region in Afghanistan the movie is supposed to be emulating. The environment is about as close as you can probably get and even the make-shift bases for some of the earlier scenes in the film are convincing enough to me as someone who has physically been in most of the real-world counterparts. Even just the attention to detail as to the brand of gloves the servicemen are wearing are spot on and everything blends together to make this movie probably as close as you can get without just watching actual combat footage from overseas.
Lone Survivor doesn’t take too much time to expand on its characters for us to get a real glimpse into who these real men were. Instead it wants to communicate how a real battle took place and the inevitable bond lead character Marcus Luttrell forms with an Afghan man that rescues him. It’s the kind of story that on its own would seem too Rambo if it were fiction, but knowing that the film follows closely as to what Luttrell and military reports say what happened that day separates this movie from Call of Duty or interlacing jingoism and cements itself as a genuine movie that can stand proud next to other great war story interpretations like Band of Brothers.