Review: Lone Survivor
The title of a film rarely reveals much in the way of key plot developments, but for Lone Survivor, it is the death of the film before it even begins. From the onset of the film the audience is well aware that only one will survive, which places the rest of the characters and the plot at a great disadvantage. Positioning Mark Wahlberg front and centre in the marketing campaign, notably as the sole person on the film’s poster, screams “spoiler alert” and cements the nail in the film’s coffin. The graphically realistic action sequences by Peter Berg, and gritty cinematography by Berg regular Tobias Schliessler barely saves the messy film, and is its only sharp direction.
Faithfully adapted from real-life lone survivor Marcus Luttrell’s recounting of his 2005 failed mission with three fellow SEALS to assassinate Taliban commander Ahmad Shahd in Afghanistan, the film begins strongly, with seemingly documentary footage of the stages of battle training. The soldiers are heartbreakingly pushed to their limits preparing for disparate torture methods, yet are palpably indestructible. These are brothers in mettle, for better or worse, and the audience will instantly applaud and commend them for their passion for their country, and for each other. It’s a shame that the rest of the film, (and for that matter, its actors), does not have the same discernible vigour and gusto as these opening moments. Instead, the film focuses on the fearsome foursome Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch), Matt Axelson (Ben Foster) and the aforementioned Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), who are assigned to the dangerous “Operation Red Wings” in the rocky foreign terrain of Afghanistan. Much like the similarly doomed Black Hawk Down, (with Somalia as its enemy territory), the enterprise does not go according to plan, and one by one the soldiers meet their gory untimely ends.
The film’s most stunning sequence (repeated twice for visual and emotional effect) is when the four soldiers quickly fall grotesquely and violently down the rocky mountainside, brutally breaking limbs and bones each time their now-frail bodies hit each hostile and sharp rock. Much like their bodies, the acting in the film falls on sharp edges, and its actors interchangeable. While cult favourite Friday Night Lights gave Taylor Kitsch a platform to shine his limited talent, he has floundered in each film he has starred in (including Berg’s Battleship, which has been unfairly maligned since its release) and this one is no different. Emile Hirsch was decent in the underrated Into the Wild, but is an almost blank slate here. Mark Wahlberg has the acting range of a first person shooter video game character, but he used that efficaciousness to greater effect in Max Payne. It is maddening that the deplorably underrated Ben Foster was not given the lead role, as he makes the most of the half-baked material he is given in the film.
Therein lies the film’s greatest flaw: its screenplay. Recently nominated for a Writers Guild award, the unintentionally laughable script by Peter Berg gives the lead actors minimal character development and ludicrous dialogue. Actual lines of dialogue include “suck it the f*** up, you’re a frogman” and “It is nobody’s business what we do; we do what we do”, among other gems. One wishes that real life Marcus Luttrell, who was on set daily to ensure authenticity, had rewritten much of Berg’s screenplay. As the film closes with footage of the real-life Operation Red Wings foursome, and a somber cover of Bowie’s “Heroes” warbles on (thankfully relieving the audience from hearing the A Few Good Men retread score by Explosions in the Sky), one wishes there were no survivors in this middling film.