Saturday, January 18, 2014

Lone Survivor Review

Lone Survivor Review

Reviewing military movies is always tricky. 

Either positive or negative, people reading may try to peg me as somebody I may or may not be. Over the years, I have seen critics get lambasted by readers because they didn't like a war movie. I have heard people who don't like war movies as ultra-leftists, anti-soldier and the like. Some people in this country get extra touchy and extra critical when it comes to war films. I suppose I understand, we have a long tradition in this country of having the finest armed force in the world. People love our military, take pride in them, rally behind them, as they should. I need to make it very clear though that liking the military and liking military movies are two completely different things. The military is an organization made of brave people, military movies are stories rewritten and acted out by Hollywood. So,  I think its unfair to completely begrudge someone simply because they don't like every war movie ever made. In film criticism, no genre is safe, we have to grade each film of each genre fairly.

I support the American armed forces, being a soldier one of the many occupations I dreamed of having as a child. My support and admiration for what they do is stronger than ever, and that maybe partially because one of my best friends is currently serving in the military. But all my life I have had a deep admiration for what our armed forces do, and I think that this is important to rule out before I say what I am going to say.

Director Peter Berg has made it clear for several years that he has a strong respect for our armed forces too. Watch "The Kingdom," "Battleship" and now "Lone Survivor." You can tell by every single detail and aspect of this film. The attention to detail is astounding and the actors are clearly giving it their all for this and trying to tell a story right. I don't mean for this to sound bad, but "Lone Survivor" is definitely a propaganda film, complete with a opening credits scene of real men training to become Navy SEAL's. The military action in this film is some of the most realistic action in a film of its kind. Its easy to get really wrapped up in the action set-pieces for the movie. Those action pieces are also intense, and when I say intense, I mean it with capital letters. We feel every wound, every bullet piercing skin and every flying debris. There are two moments in the film when the SEAL's jump down two mountains in order to dodge RPG fire. As the SEAL's are tumbling down the mountains, we feel every single hit and slam they take. It's gritty, pummeling imagery and Berg never holds back on the action. That's definitely the draw of the film and like the realism the film has. 

Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, and Ben Foster play four Navy SEAL's tasked with detaining a ruthless Taliban leader who has killed twenty Marines. As they are mapping out the Taliban's compound, three Afghan civilians come across the SEAL's and there is a huge dilemma of what to do with the civilians. The SEAL's let them go, and soon enough we are plunged into a huge shootout between the outnumbered SEAL's and a much bigger army of Taliban forces that the SEAL's weren't expecting. Communication signals are down, making calling backup an annoying chore, and the rest of the film is how the SEAL's fight their way out of Taliban territory. The work done by Wahlberg, Kitsch, Hirsch and Foster is all done very well. Its clear that they want to tell the best story possible with these real characters, and they do fine work. Like most military films however, character development is thrown mostly to the sidelines. So we get the cliche military conversations about marriages and banging bridesmaids. The actors do well, but with the talent involved I was expecting more than an undeveloped script.

I also have to point out that by the end of the film, Berg leaves realism behind and pushes the film's action into "action movie" territory and that's a shame. I wanted the film to play realistic throughout, but I guess Berg couldn't help himself from loosing it near the end. The film feels like a regular action film also with its villains. I know this is based on a true story and four SEAL's really went after a Taliban leader, but in this movie, he plays more like a stock character than a character based on a real person. I almost expected one of the Taliban to twirl a mustache.

Despite a couple fumbles, "Lone Survivor" plays incredibly tense throughout. The realism in its action really won me over, and Berg has great actors to work with. My only big problem is that I wanted more, I wanted more time to get to know the SEAL's, I wanted to learn more about the Taliban, I wanted more realism at then end instead of mindless action, I could have spent more minutes with this story and these characters. But overall, I believe Berg did a pretty good job with it, and if your thinking of seeing this. Go ahead and see it.


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