Lone Survivor (2013) Movie Review: A Gritty War Actioner with a Human Dimension

Lone_Survivor_posterSometimes it’s nice to walk into a movie screening without knowing much about the film or doing any voluntary research. This week’s prominent Hollywood release Lone Survivor is a film for which I did the same as I wasn’t initially sure if I would make it for the screening. All I knew is that this was a war film featuring Mark Wahlberg in the lead and that it was a true story, based on a book of the same name. It was in a way good as I did not have to think too much about the director Peter Berg’s previous films, or even bother about the rest of the actors involved in the film. As they say it’s nice to get surprised and that is how Lone Survivor turned out for me, a genuinely heart-warming war actioner, which thankfully is not the run of the mill kinds.

If I had figured out a lot about the movie previously I could have been a little sceptical considering that I’ve not really been a fan of director Peter Berg’s films. According to me his Hancock is one of the most disappointing super hero films ever made. Also there has already been a deluge of Hollywood films based on military operations in the Middle East including Iran, Iraq, Kuwait and even the neighbouring Afghanistan. Most of these films have been one-sided with the Americans almost always being shown as the good guys. But then the silver lining to be noted is that Mark Wahlberg is not just a fantastic actor but as a producer too he has been associated with some interesting films including The Fighter (2010), Ted (2012) and the recent Prisoners (2013).

Operation Red Wings is a documented event in the Afghan War (ongoing from 2001 onwards) that happened in 2005 in the Pech District of Afghanistan’s Kunar Province on a mountain top. The operation was carried out with the objective of disrupting local Anti-Coalition Militia activity which would have then led to the possibility of peaceful Afghani Parliament elections. The operation was supposed to  mainly target Ahmad Shah and his men as he was the most prominent leader of the Anti-Coalition Militia in that region. As part of the operation a team of 4 Navy SEAL’s was sent to do a survey of the structures that were to be used by Ahmad Shah’s group. But unfortunately this turned out to be a doomed activity. Marcus Luttrell, the lone survivor out of that 4 man team has gone on to chronicle the whole series of events in his book ‘Lone Survivor’ which he co-authored along with Patrick Robinson.

Lone Survivor-TeamNavy Hospital Corpsman Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), Team Leader Lieutenant Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Petty Officer Second Class Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) and Petty Officer Second Class Mathew Axelson (Ben Foster), are the chosen 4 selected to go and survey an area that was supposed to be a stronghold of Ahmad Shah. After reaching their vantage point and as they go about doing their surveillance they come across a small group of local shepherds. Deciding that they are civilians and have nothing to do with the Taliban/Anti-Coalition Militia, Lieutenant Murphy allows the locals to go away scot free, much to the chagrin of couple of others in his team. But within no time SEAL’s are attacked by Ahmad Shah’s men and needless to say, they find themselves hopelessly outnumbered and no match for the far intensive attack that they are subject to. The SEAL’s are forced to retreat and despite the continuing attack they try their best to call for backup support via radio and satellite phone, but meet with little success.

The rest of the film is primarily high voltage action as the SEAL’s know that they maybe outnumbered but believe that in spirit they are second to none and go about valiantly trying to counter the attack and stay alive. If one thought the film was just about a failed war mission which sees 3 of the 4 team members dying in the process and just one of them surviving, you couldn’t have been more wrong. Yes the story does mention a lone survivor in the form of Marcus Luttrell but his travails do not end a little too easily. His fight for survival continues, with Ahmad Shah’s men determined to seek him out and eliminate him. But fate intervenes in the form of a native Pashtun, Mohammad Gulab who risks his life and that of his supporters and ensures the safety of the American, Marcus Luttrell.

Lone SurvivorThe film has some really good action scenes especially as the SEAL’s are being attacked by Ahmad Shah’s men and the way the men keep sliding and bouncing off the rocky mountainous terrain is quite a tough sight indeed. Though at times you are able to clearly make out the stock footage, there are enough and more adrenalin pumping scenes which provide the balance. Despite the 4 SEAL’s knowing that their lives are in danger, they continue to maintain their camaraderie and concern for each other. Marcus Luttrell being a Hospital Corpsman keeps checking on the other 3 men for their wounds and is concerned about their safety. Though everyone is hurt, individually they are more concerned about the rest of the team and that shows true team spirit.

There’s also a bit of good humour woven into the narrative as we see the SEAL’s ragging the junior most squad member on a light note or in the form of the discussion on how expensive an Arabian stallion would turn out to be in the form of a wedding gift etc. Such moments ensure that the SEAL’s are also depicted as people with regular sentiments and thoughts like anyone else. What is also interesting is that the film is not about a war operation which sees the Americans ending up victorious as usual. This is essentially a mission that ended in a failure and something that has been openly admitted in the book as well as the film. Though one may say that the Taliban and/or Anti-Coalition Militia’s POV is not looked into at all, it’s good to see the heroism of the Pashtun villagers being shown in the right manner. Eventually the Pasthtun’s led by Mohammad Gulab (Ali Suliman) who rescues Marcus Luttrell are depicted as true heroes as it’s not easy to take upon the Taliban in their own turf.

The film has been shot in New Mexico, USA and the rugged terrains are well captured on screen and make the proceedings fairly true to the proceedings. Tobias Schliessler the DOP certainly needs to be commended for making the visuals look as real as they could get. Peter Berg has done well to keep the film as non-gimmicky as possible and he has also gone good with the casting. It’s nice to see a popular actor like Eric Bana take on a slightly smaller role as that of Lieutenant Commander Erik S.Kristensen, the person in command of the operations. Emilie Hirsch, Ben Foster and Taylor Kitsch are all good in their respective roles. And it’s good to see a popular actor like Mark Wahlberg not just produce a film like this but also taken upon a role which doesn’t stay in the limelight all through the duration of the film.

Lone Survivor isn’t eventually the best war actioner that you can get to see, but this is a true tale which deserved to be told and it has been done so in a relatively good manner by director Peter Berg. Go for this one irrespective of whether you are into war actioners or not, the chances of not liking it are relatively pretty dim.

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