War is a nasty, terrible place – we all know this; perhaps not from experience but from the lessons of history throughout the ages we know that war is a devastating and powerful force – so much so that the men who fight and live through it are not only known as survivors but heroes. Peter Berg’s “Lone Survivor” is a film which is not so much about war but of the men who fight it and the horrifying things they experience in the process. It is a film about courage, camaraderie and conflict and the ways in which those three things are seamlessly connected by something as terrible as war.
Based on a True Story
“Lone Survivor” is an account of Operation Red Wings (the picture of the real men in the operation is posted at the top of the review), a failed US Navy operation in 2005 where a squad of US Navy SEALs were tasked with assassinating Taliban commander Ahmad Shah. The operation begins without a hitch but when the soldiers are discovered, they make the difficult decision to let their spotters go, inadvertently and tragically sealing most of their fates. While the film takes a few liberties with the story and the events depicted are somewhat dramatized, Berg does a phenomenal job in portraying the operation and the tragedy of its aftermath in a brutal, true-to-life way.
Men, Soldiers, Brothers
As previously mentioned, the film focuses more on the soldiers themselves than the actual operation. Berg opts to immerse the audience in the grueling and gut-wrenching SEAL training process during the film’s opening, showing real footage of men training under the harshest conditions imaginable to become the best soldiers they can be. It’s raw, emotional, and provides a solid base for the themes of brotherhood and trust explored in the film. Berg takes the time to give each of the four main soldiers (played spectacularly by Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Taylor Kitsch and Emile Hirsch) enough exposition to prove that they are more than gun-toting warriors; he paints them as husbands, boyfriends and soon-to-be fathers and thereby humanizes them for the audience, a painful yet intelligent tactic employed by the director for the upcoming battle the men will find themselves in.
The enemy, however, are not given such a personal treatment as they are only given one scene of exposition and it’s essentially unimaginative: they’re terrorizing a village and making themselves known to not only the villagers but the audience as the antagonists and that we should root against them. Berg assumes the audience already knows how terrible the Taliban are and chooses not to shed too much light on them because after all, this is a film about the SEALs and their operation, not their enemy. When the SEALs and Taliban do clash the film’s tone darkens completely and Berg unleashes some of the most visceral and bloody battle scenes since Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” and Scott’s “Black Hawk Down.” Every bullet hit, explosion, and gunshot feels close and real; you actually feel as if you’re in the thick of the action and it’s a scary feeling to think that real men underwent such a traumatizing experience. The cinematography is reminiscent of a documentary as we mostly see the battle from the SEALs perspective and it’s given to us through multiple close-ups and zoom-ins.
No Zimmer to be Found Here
At two hours, the film feels fluid and well-paced as no scene lingers just too long or ends all too soon. Another thing to note is the film’s music which was composed by post-rock band Explosions in the Sky, who give the film a somewhat acoustic, harmonic sound with their light chords and pounding percussion. I don’t think the film would have benefitted from a large, epic orchestral score because this film is not about an epic battle – it’s a more personal and tragic story with a lot of heart at its core and the soldiers’ emotions were truly evoked through the film’s soundtrack.
“You’re Never Out of the Fight”
“Lone Survivor” is the best war film I’ve seen in a long time. With so many war films nowadays opting for CGI and big-budget set pieces, Peter Berg strips war down to its bare form- two armies with the objective of killing each other. Every actor in this film feels like a soldier and not a face out of Hollywood; Wahlberg, Foster, Kitsch and Hirsch not only embodied their roles but acted with respect to the memory of the men they portray. Though the film’s third act takes an interesting and somewhat surprising turn and the climax feels like something out of a “Call of Duty” level, the crux of the film lies in its center – its heart, if you will. This is a tough yet phenomenal film which strives to show the true horrors of war and the men who fight it and how sometimes, there can only be one survivor once the bullets stop flying and the dust settles.