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Lone Survivor– Movie Review

Submitted by on January 11, 2014 – 3:17 pmOne Comment

There’s a decent movie in the middle of Lone Survivor. The central hour or so is an almost real-time depiction of a special forces operation and firefight. It offers a gruesome and absorbing depiction of war, full of energy and kinetic camera work. The problem is the other parts, which attempt to memorialize and pay tribute to the entirety of the Navy SEALs, and to simplify the Afghan conflict into a heartwarming story, all in the span of two hours.

Lone Survivor tells the story of Operation Red Wings, a real-life special operations mission in Afghanistan from the summer of 2005. Four Navy SEALs were dropped into mountainous territory to perform surveillance and reconnaissance on a militia leader in the area. But they were discovered by civilians, and ambushed by militants.  Three of the four SEALs were killed in action; Marcus Luttrell (portrayed in the film by Mark Wahlberg), was seriously injured, but was rescued by local Afghanis and hidden until he could be recovered by the military. An additional 16 American soldiers were killed when a Chinook helicopter sent to rescue the original four was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade. At the time, it was the greatest loss of life in a single event in US special forces history.

The central “mission” portion of the film is an engaging look at an operation gone wrong, slowly unraveling despite whatever course is taken. A lot of the mission appears to be spent lying down, waiting, and watching. It’s to his credit that director Peter Berg is willing to devote so much time to honestly establishing the situation. When the bullets do start flying, Berg embellishes too much- sending the SEALs flying over a cliff just as a grenade explodes behind them, over-using slow motion, and turning the dramatic music down just long enough for the soldiers to exchange platitudes. But he also shows these macho guys totally stripped to the bone (figuratively and literally). There’s nothing glorified about their freefalls down a mountain, and they prove that even tough guys go into shock when they lose a few fingers.

As with movies as widely varied as Act of Valor, Argo, and Zero Dark Thirty, your opinion of Lone Survivor might come down to your politics. Are the events onscreen accurate? Is the narrative biased? Can the film be judged just cinematically? Is violence glorified? Is it ever appropriate to call a Hollywood movie, complete with faceless villains, happy endings, and simplified plots, “realism” or a “realistic” depiction? You be the judge.

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