“Lone Survivor” Provides an Intense Look at Modern Warfare
Lone Survivor is a war movie. Period. Hollywood used to crank them out weekly in the 1950s and 60s. Suddenly, they’re no longer politically correct. The majority of the criticism of this film is simple-minded and unfounded. It doesn’t glorify violence or fetishize weaponry. It isn’t a recruitment film for the United States military. It’s a film about camaraderie and the confusing gamesmanship that warfare in the modern age has become. Since when did we become such sensitive little movie-going nancies in this country?
In June 2005, four Navy Seals are sent into the treacherous mountain terrain of Afghanistan to eliminate Ahmad Shah, a violent Taliban leader responsible for killing numerous U.S. troops. When the four men unintentionally cross paths with three goat herders, they have to make a choice: Do they abort an important mission, or do they eliminate the civilian threat and move on to their objective? Given the trailer for this film, everyone already knows that the Seal team takes the moral high road, releases the goat herders and earns itself a serious firefight with the local Taliban in return.
The film does an excellent job of showing the audience what war is like in the modern age. It’s no longer bad guys versus good guys. The soldiers discuss rules of engagement, and what they are “allowed” to do when they confront the enemy. As the four men debate how to handle their unexpected civilian visitors, one of them points out that they’ll “be all over CNN” if they eliminate the men and press on to their objective. A second agrees and points out that he doesn’t want to “wind up in Leavenworth” if they choose the most obvious, violent solution to their conundrum. The joys of war in the era of social media, 24-hour news and political butt-covering. John Wayne never had discussions like this on screen.
The cast of young actors – Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, and Ben Foster – give realistic, understated performances. They look like soldiers and talk like soldiers, and that’s all this film requires of them. There are no big speeches or contrived moments with characters dying in each other’s arms. In fact, Lone Survivor (a spoiler of a title if there ever was one) shows that death on the battlefield is often a lonely, anonymous experience, and your contribution to the fight only lives on in the memories of your teammates.
Peter Berg (Battleship, The Kingdom) directs the film unobtrusively and scrupulously avoids the melodrama that can ensue with this type of material. Berg is not much of a visual stylist. His shots are a bit workmanlike, but Lone Survivor does not need the hand of a showy auteur. It would only distract the audience from the drama unfolding on screen.
Are there criticisms? Sure. The soldiers can be surprisingly anonymous, and there are times you may think of them interchangeably because they haven’t sufficiently been given individual identities. At times, they are more labels than people. But, perhaps the fact that we want to know more about these characters and see more of their back stories is a compliment and not a criticism. Who wants to see more of something they aren’t enjoying? (Although “enjoy” may be a poor word choice for a war film so brutally violent that you will find yourself wincing frequently.)
Lone Survivor does not earn comparisons to Saving Private Ryan or Platoon. It’s not a great film, but it’s a very good drama about life as a soldier. It shouldn’t be written off as an “action film”, but it’s a bit too shallow to be considered a great film. It’s a solid entry in this genre and worth your time.
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.