'Lone Survivor' deserves its place at the top of the box office
"Lone Survivor" tells the story of the failed Operation Red Wings. A four-man Navy Seal team was sent into the Afghan mountains to confirm the location of high- ranking Taliban officers. The Seals do their job, but when an old man and two young adolescent goat herders stumble upon their location, the mission is compromised. They find a radio on one, and another looks angry and tries to escape, leaving the Seals with no doubt that they are Taliban. They can't reach their base in the mountains and the rules of engagement say they cannot harm them, so they let them go and abort. Later that day the men are ambushed by a large army of Taliban soldiers and are forced to fight for their lives.
Many have made the film out to be overly patriotic and jingoistic propaganda. This is an understandable judgment, but a mistaken one. "Lone Survivor" is not an anti- or pro- war film. In fact, it takes no stance whatsoever besides the obvious support of American troops. It is very much a film about the courage and strength of these Seals on their doomed mission and the odyssey and horror they were forced to endure. The film is about these men, their camaraderie, their ability to hold on to hope and fight until their last breath and their desire to keep each other alive.
Writer/director Peter Berg has made his best film to date. After the failure of "Battleship" gave he and Taylor Kitsch a bad name, it seems he was given another chance-and lucky for Kitsch he was given one too with a starring role. The cast is great, but Kitsch really stands out with his performance and even outshines Mark Wahlberg. Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster also deliver great performances, but their characters are rather dry. The real only flaw with "Lone Survivor" is that all the characters are given the bare minimum development needed in order to progress. We get a broad idea of who they are, and we see how they act on the battle field, but we could use a little more. Berg's screenplay does, however, have a strong sense of realism in its well-written dialogue between the men. We have all seen a scene in a war movie where the soldiers debate whether to kill or let prisoners go. In "Lone Survivor" what sets this scene apart here is how realistic and natural the dialogue feels, tied with Berg's surprisingly incredible directing. We're really put right there in the moment.
I can't help but want the film to be a brutal display of what war is like for soldiers that "Saving Private Ryan" was. It's a lot closer to "Black Hawk Down". Similar to "Black Hawk Down" not only in small character development, the film is rather one-sided. Every time an American is shot or hurt, we're given a close up to make us grit our teeth and feel the pain. The Taliban feels no pain. Every time one is shot we see a quick, graphic, bloody close-up of the lifeless body and the film moves on. The Nazis in "Ryan" were evil men, but they were still humans who felt pain and we saw the real brutality of war on both sides. However, I suppose I cannot fault the film for not being what I want it to be when it is so well done and outstanding in what Berg meant it to be.
While the film doesn't exactly humanize the Taliban soldiers, it manages to remind xenophobic American audiences that not all Afghans are Taliban. We see the way the Taliban harms the innocent villagers and we even see those villagers fight back. Berg has written in a fictional final action sequence where the villagers who saved the lone survivor out of humanity and principle fight to protect them. While a huge historical miscalculation, it works to show the real struggle these villagers have that Americans are unaware of. This leaves me wondering what movie Berg is trying to make. Is this the ending to his brutal war drama to show that the Taliban is harming its own country, or did he feel his action movie ended somewhat anticlimactic? I want to believe it is the former, as it works best this way. While it has minor flaws, "Lone Survivor" works so well to tell its story that it is forgivable. It shows the courage and strength between these brothers and hits a very hard emotional note. Intense, gripping and unforgettable, "Lone Survivor" is destined to be a classic and a very powerful experience.
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