Lone Survivor (2013): Peter Berg’s Brutal, Fact-Based Actioner

Sociologists and psychologists should have a field day analyzing the zeitgeist that prevails in American culture these days.  What with all the dark anatomies of the American family, the American Dream, tales of survival against nature, space, and other odds by a single man (Robert Redford in “All Is Lost”), a single woman (Sandra Bullock in “Gravity”) or a group (Tm Hanks and his team in “Captain Phillips”).


Lone_Survivor_posterJoining the group of these estimable pictures is Peter Berg’s physically brutal, emotionally intense “Lone Survivor,” his most fully-realized film to date.

World-premiering at the AFI Film Fest in November, “Lone Survivor,” likely to divide critics, will be released by Universal on December 27 to qualify for Oscar considerations in what is an extremely competitive year.  Be warned: The movie is extremely tough to watch due to the bloody carnage, some of which never before seen on the American screen.

Most Americans would prefer to see survival and military sagas that end victoriously, such as Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty.”  But how do you handle fact-based tales that were not successful, such as “Lone Survivor,” about a botched Navy SEALs raid in Afghanistan.

Significantly, it was written by the only man who could tell the scary, mesmerizing factual tale, Marcus Luttrell, whose 2007 first person memoir made the N.Y. Times’ best-selling list.

Thematically narrow and ideologically focused, Lone Survivor is an immersive film, centering on a small group of soldiers tasked with a risky mission, their dilemmas and obstacles in executing it, and ultimately, their fight for their own lives.

Lone_Survivor_6_wahlbergAs noted, the film is not easy to view, due to the relentless brutality, grim reality, and tragic ending that are depicted on screen.  However, “Lone Survivor” is not just about survival: It raises moral and ethical issues makes it all the more commendable.  The movie merits our attention, gaining credibility as a graphically detailed account of what it means to be on the front–day and night.  As such, the movie cannot be compared to any American war picture, not to Spielberg’s Oscar-winning “Saving Private Ryan” (which back in 1998 broke taboos with its first candidly brutal reel), or Ridley Scott’s 2001 “Black Hawk Down,” an account of the botched military campaign during the Clinton administration.

The Navy SEALs are la crème the la crème, an elite force of extraordinarily fit men, armed soldiers for the most demanding, risky (life-threatening) attacks.  Even so, as striking as their fighting skills and survival abilities are, there are often unforeseen conditions, which make the results of a mission unpredictable.

Lone_Survivor_4_banaSet on the night of June 27, 2005, four SEALs are dropped by helicopter into rugged mountains. Their target is a Taliban who’s a Bin Laden insider, allegedly responsible for the recent deaths of no less than 20 Marines.

Refreshingly the members of the fighting quartet, which consists of Lt. Mike Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Petty Officer 1st Class Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg) and Petty Officers 2nd Class Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) and Matt Axelson (Ben Foster), are not types or stereotypes.

Unfortunately, their mission is compromised when local shepherds spot them.  After capturing their enemies, the SEALs face a dilemma, namely what to do with their captives: kill them, keep them tied up, or let them go? It is not an easy decision, due to the awareness of the probable fatal and fateful consequences of their choice.  For instance, Murphy’s decision appears primarily driven by concerns with media charges of murdering civilians, which likely would lead to extensive interrogation and even punishment.

Lone_Survivor_3When the ferocious firefight erupts, several Taliban members are killed, but the Americans are outnumbered by their opponents who are equipped with powerful weapons, including rocket-propelled grenades.  As the foursome move around, seeking protection and fighting positions on a tricky landscape, they are ripped by bullets and injured by explosions; it’s painful to watch how they slam into rocks.

As a director, Berg makes a quantum leap forward with this picture, compared to his previous efforts: “Friday Night Lights,” “The Kingdom,” and most recently the easily forgettable “Battleship.”  In impressive command of staging and framing of the action set-pieces, he variegates them with pacing that includes both slow-motion and rapid cutting, scary silence as well as deafening sound.


Released by Universal

MPAA Rating: R

Running time: 122 Minutes

Production: Emmett/Furla Films, Films 44
Director: Peter Berg
Screenwriter: Peter Berg, based on the book “Lone Survivor: An Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10” by Marcus Luttrell with Patrick Robinson
Produced by Peter Berg, Sarah Aubrey, Randall Emmett, Norman Herrick, Barry Spikings, Akiva Goldsman, Mark Wahlberg, Stephen Levinson, Vitaly Grigoriants
Executive producers: George Furla, Simon Fawcett, Braden Aftergood, Louis G. Friedman, Remington Chase, Stepan Martirosyn, Adi Shankar, Spencer Silna, Mark Damon, Brandt Andersen, Jeff Rice
Cinematographer: Tobias A. Schliessler
Production designer: Tom Duffield
Editor: Colby Parker Jr.
Music: Steve Jablonsky