By Karsten Smolinski, Daily Arts Writer
Published January 14, 2014
For those moviegoers just craving a bit of action, “Lone Survivor" ’s fearsome battles should more than meet your needs, but for the more demanding viewer, the true story of “Lone Survivor” also delivers a good dose of humanity. Based on the book of the same name by Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell and novelist Patrick Robinson, the movie follows the events of Operation Red Wings, when four SEALs came under attack from Taliban forces in the midst of enemy territory in Afghanistan.
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The film introduces the four main characters, HM1 Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg, “The Fighter”), Lt. Michael P. Murphy (Taylor Kitsch, “John Carter”), GM2 Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch, “Killer Joe”) and STG2 Matthew Axelson (Ben Foster, “Contraband”), quickly establishing their rich family lives and the strength of their bonds as brothers-in-arms. Soon thereafter, Lt. Cmdr. Erik S. Kristensen (Eric Bana, “Hanna”) sends them into the Afghan mountains on a mission to capture or kill a notorious Taliban leader.
After making a difficult moral decision over whether to release or kill a few goatherds who accidentally stumble upon the four SEALs’ hiding place, the heroes of the movie rapidly find themselves under attack by the local Taliban militia. Stranded in the middle of the Afghan wilderness with only limited radio contact with American forces, the soldiers are left with no choice but to fight for survival.
The intense and lengthy action sequence that follows excellently portrays a sense of desperation as well the Navy SEALs’ astounding ability to endure massive punishment. This echoes the film’s opening where actual footage of the Navy SEALs’ extreme training establishes the theme of willpower and a tone of realism. During the combat, a highly subjective and frenetic camera conveys the hysteria that ensues as the Taliban militia forces them to retreat further and further down the mountain. The sound effects induce flinching with every impact. Audiences also receive close-ups of the SEALs’ gruesome wounds.
Initially, the film comes off like any other film with an excess of shooting and explosions, but a dearth of unique emotionality. “Lone Survivor” glorifies the heroes and their deaths while unceremoniously dispatching a number of nameless, faceless “bad guys.” However, the film takes a surprising turn, in a moment that humanizes the Afghanis and imparts to the audience a wonderful sense of hope for the prevalence of human kindness.
Possibly the film’s strongest asset is the accuracy with which it depicts the story based off of the accounts of the lone survivor himself, Marcus Luttrell. Though Hollywood does of course fudge some of the more minor details, the events that resonate most with the audience stay fairly true to real world events. In this regard, “Lone Survivor” inspires and entertains without turning the phrase “based on a true story” into a meaningless marketing gimmick.
While “Lone Survivor” may recycle the familiar themes of patriotism, honor in war and personal sacrifice, its dedication to the real-life heroes of Operation Red Wings reminds viewers of the true value of these principles.