Film: ‘Lone Survivor’ is an Intense and Entertaining, If Flawed, Film

By Will Ashton || @thewillofash
Lone Survivor
| Directed by Peter Berg | Rated R

lone-survivor-posterIn case you didn’t get the memo, Navy SEALs are badasses. And Hollywood knows it.

Since the famous takedown of Osama Bin Laden in 2011, every movie from Zero Dark Thirty, to Act to Valor, to even Battleship have made the effort to show and applaud the work done by these soldiers. But, despite the final moments of Zero Dark Thirty, few movies have truly shown the struggles of these people alongside its pride.

At the very least, this is where the new film Lone Survivor succeeds.

Based on the true story of Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell and his team, Lone Survivor follows Marcus (Mark Wahlberg) as he and his team (Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster) are forced to fight for their lives as their mission to capture and kill Taliban leader Ahmad Shahd fails.

If I were to predict my rating for the film based on the first ten minutes alone, I doubt that it would have been very high. Not only does the opening moments of this film foreshadow, to a fault, the events that would happen throughout the film, but the film also forces Marky Mark to give one of the most contrived and heavy-handed monologues I have heard in some time. Things were looking were pretty dour for Lone Survivor in the beginning, and it didn’t get too much better in the next couple scenes to come.

Following this, we are introduced to our main characters. But Berg’s dialogue, much like his monologues, doesn’t quite have its realism nailed down, and its humor in these sequences comes across as both awkward and forced. Not to mention still filled with heavy-handed patriotism for its fighting protagonists. Just as I feared that I was watching another Act of Valor, however, things quickly, and thankfully, got better once the plot eventually moved forward.

Finally rid of its forced characterization and its heavy-handedness (for the most part—at least for now), the film is finally able to become the realistic and haunting story it wants to be. Thanks to the presence of real Navy SEALs on set, its grounded, rugged cinematography from Tobias A. Schliessler and its incredible stunts, Peter Berg’s film is able to become the fully realized look at this incident without its pretensions and phoniness.

As a result, much like Captain Phillips earlier this year, the movie is able to become an intense and intimate look at real life events, even with its star-studded cast. Speaking of which, all the performances from the main cast—as expected—are quite good. Particularly from Foster, who is always sadly overlooked, and Wahlberg, who also produces. They are able to move away from the glamour and “movie star”-ness that other actors like, say, Tom Cruise would bring to this film and give grittiness and bare-knuckled performances that are needed to make this movie impacting.

Also, make-up from Peter Montagna, Corey Welk and their group look realistic and appropriately gruesome, and help evaluate the characters’ ongoing struggles to appear more haunting and impacting as the story moves along.

While this feeling of realism continues throughout the film, particularly towards the film’s final moments, Berg does continue to slow down the movie by forcing its characters to continue giving contrived and heavy-handed dialogue about their duties as soldiers and how they must never stand down and yada, yada, yada. The saddest part of these scenes is that, despite the solid acting continuing from the main actors, this continues to bring the film down to its meandering, repetitive level.

Thankfully, Berg and his editor, Colby Parker, Jr. keep the movie brisk and moving. Beyond its opening, the movie never feels slow, even during its cliché moments. I can confidently say that I was fully entertained with the film once it finally got itself moving, and I was sucked in until the movie’s final moments.

For a director who has had a history of films that start out strong, but quickly fizzle out (Very Bad Things, The Kingdom and Hancock all come to mind), Lone Survivor is the rare film on his filmography to do the exact opposite. Despite its weak opening, the film picks itself up and provides a solid second and third acts, even with its repetitiveness, meandering and heavy-handiness in mind. I had a fun time with it overall, and I have a hard time believing that most audience members will feel otherwise.

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