The Hippo


Jul 22, 2019








Lone Survivor (R)

Lone Survivor (R)
Film review

By Amy Diaz

 Four Navy SEALs are surrounded by Taliban fighters and cut off from communication with reinforcements in Lone Survivor, a movie based on the story of a real 2005 operation gone wrong in Afghanistan.

Gone really wrong, as the title suggests.
After some basic introduction of the characters, the movie fairly quickly gets down to business: Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), Mike Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) and Matt “Axe” Axelson (Ben Foster) are dropped into a mountainous hinterland of Afghanistan and charged with finding Ahmad Shah (Yousuf Azami), a Taliban commander. They are reconnaissance for a larger mission to capture and/or kill Shah, a mission which, as Axe ominously says before they set off, has a lot of moving parts. The men spot Shah and radio back to their base — though, because of the rockiness of the terrain, they aren’t in constant radio contact. Therefore, it takes a while for the base to learn that they have run in to trouble: namely, after identifying Shah but before the rest of the operation unfolds, the four men are discovered by local goat-herders. The trio of civilians includes an old man and two younger men, one clearly a kid, one a bit older. Pretty much immediately, the foursome realizes that there are no good options for them. Letting the goat-herders go will almost certainly result in Taliban fighters heading to the men’s location. But they also aren’t obvious combatants — there is no justification under the rules of engagement for killing the old man and the boys, and leaving them alive but in restraints on the mountain would be the same as killing them. 
The SEALs decide to let the men go and prepare for the battle that they know is coming. I didn’t look at my watch but my guess is that this happens somewhere between a third of the way through and half the way through the movie. Everything after that is just the four men fighting to survive an onslaught of Taliban fighters and trying to get word back to their base.
Let me say right here that the movie is all I’m going on for this review. I haven’t read the book on which it is based and while I have a vague memory of hearing about the incident, I haven’t done any independent research. So the movie’s most significant scene of dialogue — the one in which the four SEALs discuss what to do with the men they encounter — may or may not be true to life, but I like how the movie handles it. The men don’t start speechifying, they don’t restate the purpose of the war or their opinion about the war. They simply discuss which of the bad outcomes they can live with. 
I’d argue that in general the movie isn’t taking a stand on the Bush administration’s foreign policy. The movie, in the most basic sense, supports the troops and tries to tell the story of these four men. Beyond that, Lone Survivor is all about trying to deliver a “you are there” level of combat realism. The men get shot and beaten up by falls down the mountainside as they try to escape. The movie makes us feel every injury, see every gash, and I think that, more than making some larger point about The War, is the movie’s aim.
The result is a film that shows in gritty detail a harrowing situation, holds your attention but doesn’t necessarily leave you with much to ponder. It is a front-page newspaper story, written in just-the-facts manner with just enough details (Dietz is worried about his wife’s sudden interest in remodeling the house, for example) to flesh out the people involved. I don’t necessarily think this present-tense quality to the film is a bad thing. I think bigger-picture speechifying would have been too much and, considering that the movie is about real men (whose photos are shown before the final credits) who died less than 10 years ago, would have felt in bad taste.  
 For me, the oddest part of the movie is that it leaves me with no good answer to the question “Is this movie worth seeing?” Technically, it is impressive — the camera work puts you there, as in-the-thick of a realistic battle as you can get from the safety of a theater seat. And I give the movie and its actors credit for not getting in the way of letting the story unfold. But the movie itself needed some additional element to pull together its story, its visual proficiency and its characters into something greater than just a well-rendered battle report. B
Rated R for strong bloody war violence and pervasive language. Directed by and screenplay by Peter Berg (from the book by Marcus Luttrell with Patrick Robinson), Lone Survivor is two hours and one minute long and distributed by Universal Pictures.

As seen in the January 16th, 2014 issue of The Hippo

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