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Lone Survivor – Movie Review

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Lone Survivor – Movie Review

Rating: A- (Great)

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Throughout history, a large number of war films have taken a stance on either supporting the war effort or portraying it as an unnecessary waste of innocent lives. In Lone Survivor, Peter Berg makes the smart decision of taking a more neutral approach as he merely decides to tell this true story with the utmost realism and shows soldiers being soldiers. The circumstances that led Marcus Luttrell and the other three Navy SEALs were certainly not good, but they are definitely portrayed with a strong moral compass as they try to survive this situation. Most importantly, none of the SEALs are portrayed as expendable and the gunfire is not meant to be rousing. This is a war film that never turns into a debate about the necessities of war nor a commentary on the conflict in Iraq.

Peter Berg has obviously spent a lot of time trying to portray this story in the most accurate manner possible and immediately makes it feel like the audience is in the middle of the mountain terrains where bullets are flying furiously. The tension is constantly on high and even though the title and real-life event hint at where the film will end up, there is still a massive amount of uncertainty running through the entire picture. The fear for these soldiers come not simply through Berg’s expert direction, but how he is able to establish them as real, three-dimensional people. Each Navy SEAL is properly developed at the start and continue to be, even as they start shooting and falling. Mark Wahlberg portrays Luttrell as a man stuck in a deadly situation and carefully thinking and running through the possible solutions in his head. He has to survive, while still honouring his oath upon entering the Army.

Taylor Kitsch has been growing as a dependable and strong actor in recent years and he is the standout in the cast, bringing a certain level of humanity to his gruff troop leader. Emile Hirsch portrays SEAL Danny Dietz as the young soldier trying to do the best job possible and stuck in the middle of his comrades’ discussions. All the meanwhile, Ben Foster has an intensity as the soldier most willing to kill the people they encounter, though there is still a semblance of morality found underneath his tough exterior. The early scenes establish their camaraderie and it not only shows the bonding between the soldiers, but also endear them to the audience as well. Without these key developing scenes, there would be no tension in the subsequent gunfights.

Lone Survivor also doesn’t fall into overt patriotism or jingoism. A pivotal moment in the film has them debating whether to kill a couple of villagers who have stumbled onto their hideaway and the back-and-forth shows these are not men who will kill anything in their path. They have to stop and think about the best course of action, because they are human beings, not merely American soldiers. A group of villagers later on, who help Luttrell while he is at his last breaking point, shows that good people can be found even when least expected and possibly on the other side. This all ties into the theme of the unexpected and unanticipated, as the soldiers find themselves amidst a force they didn’t prepare for and Luttrell encounters a helping hand when his superiors are unable to. Tobias A. Schliessler’s cinematography elevates the excitement of the war scenes with some beautiful aerial helicopter shots and some appropriately tight-knit close-ups.

Lone Survivor is definitely the sort of film that deserves a big screen viewing to get the full experience of being there on the ground with the Navy SEALs. The careful camera placements are effective in showcasing the scariness in addition to both the fear and bravery of this troop. The sound design is fantastically placed and deserves to be heard in a screening room with the best equipment installed alongside the walls. Every single bullet whizzing by is felt and the sound mixers really amp up the cracking of their bones from every painful injury. Adding further to the realism is the outstanding makeup, which is not merely used for blood soaked injuries. When Luttrell is pulling a piece of shrapnel from his leg, it’s a very hard watch and that is certainly an indication that the makeup team have succeeded in giving the audience the same painful feeling that he is experiencing.

It is probably difficult to get a good idea of being a soldier in the trenches without signing up for the Army, but Lone Survivor is definitely on par with Saving Private Ryan in how it realistically captures the horror and need for survival that one might encounter on the battle field. That we get to know this troop of Navy SEALs only heightens the emotion when they get shot and move slowly towards their eventual deaths. Peter Berg has taken great care to make sure this is not a shoot-‘em-up picture, but rather a real story that’s respectful to the actual casualties of Operation Red Wings. The editing, cinematography, sound design, makeup and acting are all delivered with the right intensity and realism and all contribute to an enthralling war picture that doesn’t take any stance other than showing what men in those circumstances might face.

Review By: Stefan Ellison


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