Lone Survivor
Operation: War Movie

War movies are not as easy to sell these days as they were back in John Wayne’s time.  This is especially true when the war in question is the modern war, one so many people are outspokenly against.  Perhaps that is why director Peter Berg struggled for over five years to get Lone Survivor made. The story, based on the ill-fated “Operation Red Wings” in 2005, is one that is definitely worth telling and Berg tells it in a way that is at the same time entertaining, tragic, and hopeful.

On June 28, 2005, a four-man Navy SEAL team was dropped into the middle of Afghanistan with the mission of capturing or killing a dangerous Taliban leader residing in a local village.  After being dropped by helicopter a safe distance away, the team sets out on foot across the mountains to a perch above the village.  After having difficulties communicating with the operations center, they decide to seek higher ground and wait it out until morning.  Unfortunately, when morning comes, they find themselves faced with a difficult moral choice.

Ben Foster as Matt 'Axe' Axelson in Lone SurvivorAn elderly goat herder with two young boys literally stumble across the team in the mountains and a radio in their possession ties them in with the Taliban.  The team knows that their mission is compromised and they could either let their captives go and retreat in hopes of escaping the Taliban’s pursuit, or they could eliminate the compromise and continue their mission.  Choosing not to eliminate an old man and two kids, the team lets them go and soon find themselves outnumbered, outgunned, and being unable to communicate with operations.  Their mission becomes one of survival and as the title suggests, not all of them will make it home safely.

Lone Survivor is not an easy movie to watch.  The middle sequence of the movie is as intense of a war sequence as anything since Saving Private Ryan.  A major difference between the two sequences is that Private Ryan’s opening took place on a beach, whereas the American soldiers in this movie must deal with the dangers of fighting along a rocky mountainside in addition to the onslaught of bullets being rained down by the Taliban.

Berg opens his movie with a montage of real Navy SEALs going through their intense training program and this training sequence perfectly sets up the central section of the movie in which we see these men get torn apart by bullets while falling down cliff-facings covered in trees and rocks, only to get back up and continue soldiering on.  It is unbelievable the amount of pain that these men are able to withstand, but it is because of the opening training montage that we as an audience are able to believe they could do it.

It also helps that the audience is given characters to care about. We don’t get much time with these characters before all hell breaks loose, but the time we do get is quality.  Berg, who also wrote the script, shows these men as family men with wives and fiancées waiting for them back home.  We also see these four main characters interact with each other before the bullets start flying and we see the brotherhood that exists between them.  A lot of credit for that goes to the actors: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, and Ben Foster.  We all know them from other movies, but we immediately forget their prior roles and accept them as the characters they are playing.

Although the title gives away the ending, those of us who did not know the full story going in were treated to something of a twist in the movie’s final act.  It is this final sequence that really lends this movie a heart, as it reminds us that even in the darkest of places, there is still goodness in the world.  It was also nice of Berg to refer back to this sequence just before the film’s final credit, sharing an explanation for the actions of certain individuals in the story.  Although the survivor of the title may get the medal, he will likely be the first to tell you that these people were the real heroes, for they are the ones that give us hope for something better.

Lone Survivor is rated R for “strong bloody war violence and pervasive language.”  The violence is intense and very bloody; definitely not for the faint of heart.  The language is typical of what you find in a military movie.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of Lone Survivor.