As any devoted fan of former TV mainstay ”Friday Night Lights” (one of the best television dramas of modern-times) knows, Peter Berg is big on macho, gets off on meme-ready inspirational quotes (‘clear eyes, full heart, can’t lose’..anyone?), likes his on-field action to be captured with as much can-you-handle-it, fast-paced gritty realism as our pupils can handle, and uses instrumental rock music as a key emotional anchor.
And here we go again.
The captain hits the warning trigger! “Peter Berg film! Right Ahead!”
The well-worn but welcome constituents are all part of the game plan in “Lone Survivor”, Berg’s long term passion project (he’s big on the long time passion projects; ”FNL” – as us fans know are legally allowed to call it – was one too) that, while not brandishing any rewind-worthy touchdowns, is effective in its effortless ability to incarcerate attention until the final siren blows.
Adapted from the memoir “Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of Seal Team 10” Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson, Berg’s “Black Hawk Down”-esque film chronicles the terrifying and tragic true story of former Navy SEAL Luttrell’s (Mark Wahlberg) horrific ordeal as part of Operation Red Wings in Afghanistan. As the title suggests, Luttrell is one of the only one that returns from the mission.
“Lone Survivor” falls somewhat between terrifically-shot, ultra-realistic war film and ‘Mark Wahlberg saves the day’ movie.
The age old question of whether a big-time, recognisable movie star sometimes diverts emotional investment in a true story like this – because, we are, obviously constantly reminded by that very familiar face that we are watching a movie – again comes to surface here, with Mark Wahlberg bringing every inch of his matinee idol stardom to the lead role. While great, and especially powerful in some of the latter scenes, there’s no arguing that his presence does slightly skew the movie away from ‘heart bashing true story’ territory and into Wahlberg-action movie territory, unintentionally undoing the hardness and terror of the true story (In addition, with Wahlberg leading the pack, it’s not exactly a surprise who the ‘Lone Survivor’ of the title is). A less recognisable actor may not have worked as well for the box office (so it’s understandable why Berg went with Wahlberg, who he has wanted to work with since an ill fated film adaptation of video game “Spy Hunter” in the early noughties) but it night have worked better for the film.
Wahlberg is solid though, and evidently determined to do justice to Luttrell’s story. The supporting cast, including the always-dependable Ben Foster, Berg-staple Taylor Kitsch (“Battleship”, “Friday Night Lights”) and Emile Hirsch, are equally as embroiled in their parts, all convincing as a memorable band of brothers.
The first half of Patrick Robinson and Marcus Luttrell’s book is condensed into a montage that opens the movie, which sadly (but understandably, given time constraints), shreds some of the character detail and background needed to really know these characters. Instead, Berg substitutes backstory for heavy-handed patriotic ‘brothers to the end!’ speeches between the guys, which though likely close to what these guys may have uttered to each on the battlefield at the tense time, don’t really feel earned as far as the movie goes. Though a little manipulation and button-pushing is probably a must in a film with so much machismo and testosterone, Berg needs to have more confidence in his story and characters – the audience would likely get their own their own without the flashing ‘cry now’ or ‘raise the neck hairs now’ signs lighting up.
As a war film, “Lone Survivor” is shot with such realism, showing the true brutality of war, that it would’ve undoubtedly had the ratings board going back and forwards – but in-your-face grittiness is one of the film’s big strengths and so dearly needed when you’ve got a big-time Hollywood star popping authenticity bubbles by merely showing his face.
Stay for the very touching pictorial tribute to the real men who lost their lives at the tail end of the movie.