I’m going to make it a point to view some more Peter Berg films soon. His reputation is scatter-shot(2012’s critical and commercial failure, “Battleship”), but I am beginning to suspect there is more to him than meets the eye. 2008’s “Hancock” was quite good for a while, and then went awry in its last third. And I’ve always heard fine things about 2003’s “The Rundown”, 2004’s “Friday Night Lights”, and(especially)2007’s “The Kingdom”. Sadly, I’ve somehow missed all three. Rectification coming soon. But for now, I want to focus on a late 2013 release called “Lone Survivor”. It’s an action film—I guess—that seems like it’s on its way to getting lost in the shuffle during this busy awards season. It deserves much better though, because it’s pretty darn good. And it somehow manages the neat trick of coming off patriotic and anti-war, without seeming preachy or jingoistic. That is some feat.
The action is intense, brutal, violent, and based on an actual Navy SEAL mission. Berg keeps the focus on the tight-knit “band of brothers” throughout most of the film, and he accomplishes a reality(to this non-military guy, anyway)that recalls the succinct boot-camp type training that Oliver Stone put his cast through in 1986’s “Platoon”. A fine Mark Wahlberg is cast as soldier Marcus Luttrell, and the story is derived from his 2007 book of the same name. There are familiar faces in place as Luttrell’s fellow SEALs, but that never detracts from the authenticity or the camaraderie. Emile Hirsch is on board as Danny Dietz, Taylor Kitsch is LT Michael P. Murphy and chameleon Ben Foster plays Matthew Axelson. You’ll recognize all these guys, but it doesn’t diminish the fact that they are all playing real people—most of whom never lived to tell the tale. Their mission was called Operation Red Wings, and its focus was the attempt to take out an infamous Taliban leader in Afghanistan in 2005. Eric Bana and Alexander Ludwig also contribute sizable roles.
The movie is really an epic, but it still feels very small. It doesn’t get bogged down in bullshit, and it mostly steers clear of politics. It’s also taut and in-your-face. Leg wounds, head trauma, shrapnel in the abdomen—it’s visceral and gritty as well. This is a current and realistic war film that you should make the time to experience. It is also commendable for not travelling the road of turning all the Middle Easterners into brutal automatons. It’s a compact tale that’s straightforward to a bit of a fault. In other words, the path is largely predictable, and the title itself is a huge spoiler. No matter. If it’s not exactly among the best films of the year, it’s at least on the outskirts of any respectable list. I like what director Peter Berg has done here, and I’m pretty certain that a sizable lot of you will agree. Grade: B+
next review up: “The Wolverine”