Saturday, February 1, 2014

Lone Survivor

By James Colt Harrison

With a title like Lone Survivor, you pretty much know the ending. Just as we knew how Titanic would end, this modern day war film pretty much says it all.

The film has been out awhile, having gotten lost in the dozens of holiday films that were released all at the same time. But don’t disregard this mostly unpublicized film as you will be missing the most patriotic film in a long time.

What makes this film unique is that it is based on a true story. Marcus Luttrell was the man who was in Afghanistan in 2005 with his four man group of United States Navy SEALS on Operation Red Wings to rout out the Taliban fighters in the hills. Their main goal was to track the notorious Taliban leader Ahmad Shah. Luttrell wrote his account of the failed mission with British novelist Patrick Robinson.

Mark Wahlberg plays HM2 Luttrell, the corpsman and sniper of the reconnaissance and surveillance team, SEAL Team 10. Lt. Michael Murphy, a reconnaissance and surveillance team member, is played by Taylor Kitsch. Joining them is young Emile Hirsch as GM2 Danny Deitz, a communication specialist and spotter. Blond Ben Foster plays Luttrell’s closest friend STG2 Axe Axelson, a hotshot sniper. In fact, Luttrell named his son after Axe.

The film concerns itself mostly with how the guys are going to get out of the trap the Taliban has set for them in the rugged mountains of Afghanistan.  Action comes to the fore, and expert marksmanship abounds on both sides. Whether ours is better is open to scrutiny. The SEALS are hiding out just above a small village that may be harboring Taliban members. Tension rises when the enemy riflemen find the SEALS in the forest and conduct a brutal firefight with them.

One of the most spectacular scenes in any action picture to date is when the Navy group must abandon their mountain-top aerie and jump over the side of rocky cliffs. They become, of course, sitting ducks. The stunt work is tremendously exciting, brutal, and cringe-worthy. One can’t imagine the stunt men weren’t actually hurt falling from one jagged rock to the next. It was not done on a computer. It’s the best action sequence in the film.

Director/writer Peter Berg has done his best to make an old-fashioned patriotic film to get our hearts stirring. The story is brutal, constantly moving and ultimately touching. More emphasis is put onto the action rather than on the characters’ personalities. There is no loveable William Bendix, so popular in 1940s war films, and no ethnic Italians from Brooklyn. Everybody is homogenized and no one character makes a great impression as a man. They are all good looking All-Americans, but we don’t really get to know them. Wahlberg, being the star, gets more screen time than the others, but even his personality is not developed to any degree.

The film was shot in New Mexico, substituting for Afghanistan. The cinematography by Tobias Schliessler is spectacular. His sunsets are like paintings, and the rugged mountainsides take on a new life with his color cameras. Visually it is a beautiful film, not something one would expect in a war movie. Universal Pictures.

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