Many war films try so hard to capture the authenticity and brutality of war. “Saving Private Ryan” and “Platoon” are such films that have. Other try so hard but never quite reach that status. When “Lone Survivor” was coming out I thought to myself it looks like another war flick trying to capture war but won’t, not that any movie that truly capture the hell that is war. I held off on seeing it because I didn’t think it would fulfill on its promise and went to see other films. Finally I got around to seeing and was I blown away. Sure there are a few weaknesses of the film such as some solid character development and the third act does cross the territory from reality to Hollywood but that doesn’t take away from the powerful emotional impact it will leave viewers with and boasts some of the most tense, heart pounding, and brutal combat sequences ever put to film and captures the feeling of war that none should ever have to experience.
The film follows the true events of operation red wing. A squad of Navy Seals are sent into Afghanistan to kill a high profile Taliban leader when something the mission becomes compromised and the men decide to turn back and try to head back to base. When quickly that becomes apparent that it isn’t going to happen. The Navy Seals comes under fire from what seems like an endless amount of Taliban forces and survival becomes increasingly grim.
The beginning of the film shows off real footage of what Navy Seals go through for training. It immediately puts me to shame. (Believe it or not I cannot achieve what those men do.) They show this in efforts to demonstrate how tough a Seal is which in turn makes the action later more believable.
The first act is generally used to establish the characters. Yet this is probably the weakest part of the film. We get to know a little about each Navy Seal, which are sometimes hard to distinguish from one another. However I do wish we got to know the character even more, taken a little more time to develop them more making the impact later on that much greater. It is enough to care but the screenplay does only the bare minimal of establishment before moving on and doesn’t try to take the extra step to be better than just good enough.
The second act is the strongest aspect of the film. This is where the Navy Seal team drops into Afghanistan. The team moves across the rough terrain to reach their destination. The team comes upon a group of goat herders and must to decide whether to kill them or not in order to keep the mission alive. A fantastically written argument of ethics and moral dilemma ensues. Whichever decision the team makes will have repercussions. People will be talking about and discussing it long after the film is over.
It is in this second act that they come under fire from Taliban soldiers. The buildup will leave you getting tenser and tenser when finally the first bullet is fired and from here on out you are treated to some of the most authentic combat sequences ever. The intensity hardly ever lets up for you to catch a breath with gun fire heard everywhere and people dying all around on screen it is tough to take it all in on the first viewing. To a certain point you’d expect to become numb to all of it but you never do. The brutality is tough to watch and will make you look away from the screen from time to time. It never does feel over the top, these sequences feels so damn real from beginning to end.
It was very surprising to see the director was, Peter Berg. The Peter Berg that directed “Hancock” and “Battleship”. To be fair he did make the critically acclaimed film “Friday Night Lights” but it had years and so far removed from that and his last film was “Battleship”. It certainly was shocking to see the maturity he took in making this picture.
The third act is a “weak-ish” part of the film. I say “ish” because the third act is still well made and highly entertaining but it felt a little removed from what the rest of the film was. Once the guns started firing again it felt a little more Hollywood like in nature and less authentic. Still well mad and edge of your seat filmmaking make no mistake, but it isn’t quite the same. Looking up the true story after I found out a large part of the ending never happened. Berg wrote it in as one last big finale. As I said before well done and exciting but a little removed from the sequences that proceeded it. I believe a little less shooting and more of an intense negotiation would been better in line with what the film had been doing but never the less still well made.
There are certain theater experiences you won’t forget quickly. “The Lone Survivor” was one of those experiences for me. Throughout the film people in the audience were emotional engaged to this hearing the shrieks of pain along with the soldiers on screen. You could hear the cries and tears of them and when the lights came back on everyone was dead quiet and didn’t say a word everyone gather their stuff and walked out in silence. The film robbed all the air of the theater away. This was quite an experience and knowing full well of the true events does bring an even more sense of power and dread. What this film lacks in character development it makes up for in power and intensity. This is a more honest representation of war and men in war and even if the third act does venture a little further away from that. It is still better than many other war films to come out in the past couple years. this a film to be experienced in theaters and I’m glad I made it in time.