MPAA Rating: R/Genre: War Drama/ Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster, Eric Bana, Ali Suliman, Alexander Ludwig, Yousuf Azami, Sammy Sheik, Rich Ting, Dan Bilzerian, Jerry Ferrara, Scott Elrod, Rohan Chand, Corey Large, Nicholas Patel, Daniel Arroyo/ Runtime: 121 minutes
I think it is safe to start this review off by saying that movie magic is at its finest when the world around us is recreated not just to entertain us, but also to pass along a message, to be more than just mere images on a screen, and to take us back to a particular moment in history not to make money, but because it’s an integral moment for us as a society to look back on. Indeed some of the finer moments in the history of film are the ones that are constructed in front of us and then slowly but surely ebb their way into our hearts and minds in equal measure. Indeed it is in those moments that the only thing that is shown is why: why is this important, why should we care, and why is the narrative being told to us one that we need to see and remember now and always? Suffice it to say then that some of the finer cinematic moments are the ones that go past film as a medium and manage to make the border between what is real and what is the product of the mind a bit hazy thus permitting those of us watching to feel what those on screen are going through and to appreciate the real-life people who lived and who sadly didn’t at the heart of the narrative as well. The reason I bring this up to you dear reader is because film helmer Peter Berg’s 2013 slice of cinematic pie Lone Survivor is a film that checks all of the aforementioned boxes and then some. Indeed here is a movie that was conjured up not simply to engage and/or entertain you. Rather, this is a slice of cinematic pie that is meant to draw you in close to a specific period in time, to showcase for you in a firsthand manner not only the genuine pain and heartache one can go through in life, but also enable you to get a sense of the more positive emotions as well to say nothing of being able to experience true emotional catharsis and not just be able to comprehend the events this film shows you, but also feel the entire emotional spectrum as those who were involved surely must have. Indeed this film is as much a dedication of life as it is a doom and gloom showcase for demise. Yet it is also a riveting, potent, hard to watch at points yet deeply respectful recreation of present day combat, but even more crucial, of a group of men who gave everything not because they were ordered to, but because it was their duty, because they were brothers, and because of a hope that they all shared. That hope being that one day the world would know what happened to them, and then the world could mourn their loss, and then eventually after their grief hopefully work towards constructing a world where their sacrifice was not meaningless, but rather the final ones that had to be made for the cause of which they were such a valiant and noble part of.
The plot is as follows: Lone Survivor tells the riveting story of a quartet of members of that elite group known as U.S. Navy SEALs by the names of Marcus Luttrell, Michael Murphy, Matt Axelson, and Danny Dietz. Indeed here is a group of men who are not just brothers in arms as well as dear friends. They are also the core unit that find their lives changed forever following their being assigned to go into enemy territory and nab a notorious leader of the Taliban by the name of Ahmad Shah. An assignment that manages to become a wee bit more difficult than anticipated thanks not only to the pretty-decent sized security force protecting him, but also by the fact that the team’s position is blown due to a group of goat herders at the wrong place at the wrong time. As a result, we see that our quartet is forced to make the difficult choice of either eliminating them and running the risk of being charged with a war crime or cutting them loose which might see them go back and sic the whole security force on them. Thus we see that after the order comes through to let them loose that our quartet is forced to flee on foot through the mountains in order to get to a location where they can radio for a prompt airlift out of there. Tragically, we soon see that their worst fear comes to pass as they are horrifically besieged by the enemy force thus forcing our quartet to engage in a visceral run and gun fight where survival is not guaranteed by any stretch of the imagination.
Now I think it’s safe to say that Lone Survivor is most assuredly a riveting and quite thrilling film that is full to the brim and then some with testosterone…at least on the surface. Indeed I would completely understand if you felt that this film was just another bloody war film since the audience who only chooses to give this a peek is able merely to see what is going on rather than feel the emotional impact of what is going on and comprehending why it is occurring in the first place. Indeed it’s in these ties that this slice of cinematic pie forms with those who choose to watch it and the bridges it builds with our world that are more potent than any of the guns, explosions, and blood spilt where this slice of cinematic pie is able to become a truly gripping viewing experience. By that I mean this film, for all intents and purposes, puts you the viewer in that mountain range, in the middle of the bullets and bombs, and headfirst into the ties that keep these men together. Indeed the pain and agony of the sacrifices made and the wounds suffered are two things that all 4 of our heroes share. Put another way: they live as one, they fight as one, and in many respects they also die as one. Indeed the concluding voice over by the….well….lone survivor in which he talks about how he, in a figurative sense, also died in that mountain range alongside his brothers really is the perfect summation of this whole film even as it also helps to raise it beyond operating simply being an entertaining guns’ a blazing kind of film and the core narrative beyond being just a simple tale of surviving against any and all possible odds. Rather, it transforms it into a riveting saga of brotherhood and of comprehending what it means to be a part of something far bigger than yourself. A concept that incidentally is something the titular characters, being SEALs, and even a few Afghans that pop up in this film comprehend and, through the sacrifices the characters make, something those who watch this film with comprehend should they get past the superficial ingredients.
In all fairness, those superficial ingredients prove to be an integral element to the whole viewing experience since it’s through those where the purpose of this film begins to be molded for the audience. Also praise worthy is the fact that film helmer Peter Berg doesn’t restrain anything from a visual point of view. Indeed he never makes these men superheroes (be they Marvel or DC) despite the vicious amount of brutal violence that is inflicted on them. Indeed right from the beginning of the gun battle, our quartet of heroes is showcased as tired, bloody, and operating more on bravery than anything else. Yes these men are showcased in a heroic light, but it is also in a realistic light as well. Indeed for all their training both physically and psychologically they are still only able to go as far as they do due to their ironclad will and no less. Now from a technical standpoint, I must say that this slice of cinematic pie is phenomenally assembled. Indeed the action beats in this feel genuine in their execution and the degree of realistic with which the quartet engage in combat right down to the intricacies of their utilization of their firearms and combat methods elevates the action beats in this in a manner that the entries in the Action genre that conjure up seemingly unstoppable heroes could not really begin to comprehend. Indeed make no mistake: if you choose to watch this you will feel every tumble, every bullet that soars overhead, and every explosion that goes off in the quartet’s vicinity. Suffice it to say that this entry is easily one of the more realistic showcases for combat that I have seen in a war movie in the past 10-15 years.
All in all I think it is safe to say that Lone Survivor is easily one of the most draining on a pathos level movies I have seen in a while and as far as I am concerned that is the highest praise that a film like this could ever hope to achieve. Yes if you really must know the title does kind of giveaway how the movie plans to wrap its narrative up, but the relentless suspense and the phenomenal way that this slice of cinematic pie places you headfirst in the combat zone with these men is an accomplishment in and out of itself. At the same time it should also be said that the quite immersive and infinitely more crucial thematic concepts that weave and thread its way through the film such as laying down your life for the man fighting next to you, and continuing to live for those who gave their lives for you to keep living are given the utmost respect and emotional potency that I feel movie magic as an medium could permit at this time. Yes this film is visceral, emotional, and pretty darn difficult to view at spots, but the heart and soul that this film is committed to really go a long way to give what happened to these men and their sacrifice the meaning it so desperately deserves. To that end, I definitely feel that Lone Survivor should be remembered as one of the defining slices of cinematic pie of the war it showcases much in the same respect as films like Saving Private Ryan and Platoon. On a scale of 1-5 I give Lone Survivor “2013” a solid 4 out of 5.