Lone Survivor (2013)

Lone Survivor

I decided to watch Lone Survivor after having read a positive review on The War Movie Buff’s blog (here). I did not regret it, although I have some reservations.

Talk about a doomed operation. Lone Survivor is based on a true story – Operation Red Wing – which went horribly wrong. Given how the movie starts and its title, it’s not a spoiler to mention that the operation only had one survivor played by Mark Wahlberg. 

The movie is set in Afghanistan in 2005. Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg) and three other Navy Seals are sent on a mission to capture or kill al Qaeda leader Ahmad Shahd. While hiding in the mountains goatherds literally stumble over them. The four men have a heated discussion about what they should do with them. Two want them dead, one wants to tie them and only Luttrell wants to let them go. Unfortunately their communication systems don’t work and they cannot reach their commander (Eric Bana) and ask for advice. Finally they let them go as that is in line with their rules of engagement. It’s clear that while this is the right thing to do, nothing good can come of it. And indeed, one of the herders runs down to the village and alerts the men surrounding Ahmad Shadh. What follows is an intense two hours of flight and fight.

First I’d like to say that the movie is well done. The pacing is good, there is some nice cinematography (stunning sunsets), the music works well, the action scenes are extremely realistic. The characters aren’t fully rounded, but that would be absurd in a movie like this. Last, but not least it’s very suspenseful, although we know there’s only one survivor.

I thought that in choosing this title and beginning of the film, which clearly shows that only Wahlberg’s character survived, the director stayed away from sentimentality and melodrama, which is so often annoying in movies of this type.

I’ve seen this compared to Black Hawk Down but I can’t see any similarity. I was reminded of Bravo Two Zero, in which the failing communication also played a major role. Lone Survivor has elements of both Act of Valor and the French Forces Spécilales, but I would say it’s better.

I’ve seen a lot of very harsh reviews of this movie. I think it’s not as bad as some say, but as is often the case with movies, which also find the approval of the military, there’s a mix up in the reception. One thing is the movie as such, and one can really not find a lot of flaws in that, the other thing is the reason that this movie was made in the first place. It depicts a true story and if you are against the way the US handle their war against terrorism, then you are probably inclined to be against this film. But that’s really mixing up two things. I thought that this movie stayed away from a lot of the glorifying we usually see in movies like this. It depicts  highly trained men on a mission that goes wrong. Sure, the characters want to kill as many Afghanis as they can, and they don’t try to apply a lot of empathy, but I’d like to see what all the liberal thinkers who criticized this film would do in a similar situation. Would they still try to understand and speak in a politically correct way about people who are trying to kill them?

I liked this film and the way it was done. I’m not keen on the US strategies against terrorism, but there is no denying that they exist. And there is no denying that the US military has some admirably well-trained soldiers who would do anything for each other.

Watch it if you like watching an action-driven movie inspired by a true story, leave it out if you expect criticism of the US military.

6 thoughts on “Lone Survivor (2013)

  1. the war movie buff says:

    Excellent review. You have the right idea about it being a true story of warriors, not a jingoistic defense of U.S. foreign policy. I really believe some reviewers of American war movies are predisposed to dislike the films.

    I do see some similarities to Bravo Two Zero and Act of Valor. I agree it is a better film than those two.

    I believe the title was a mistake. I know it is based on a book and strangely the book title is fine, but to remove a key element of the lost patrol subgenre by telling the audience the outcome ahead of time was a marketing mistake.

    I personally do not see why they did not tie up the shepherds. The other two choices were much worse. If it was not based on a true story, I would call letting them go a Hollywood plot development.

    • Thanks, Kevin. I didn’t know that about the shepherds. They say they would have died because of the cold.
      It was a hard choice. They did the decent thing.
      I think the title, although a bad marketing choice, showed that the intentions were better than most of the critics seem to think. Iz just goes to shw that everyone’s opinion can be clouded I’ve read offensive reviews which had nothing to do with the movie. I find it importnat that we get to see movies on modern wars. We need to know the costs.
      I loved Bravo Two Zero but I’m biased because of Sean Bean.

      • nem baj says:

        They mention the cold, and also wolves – which made me wonder, who sent them on a sunny wooded slope so close to a village? These locations are used for sheep and goats all over the world, and if there are predators around the escort won’t be a single herder.

        But I guess it’s simpler to pretend it was chance, and “Afghanistan, man”, as an irrational place where anything can happen.

      • The scene is somewhat questionable. I wonder now, how it really happened. I don’t think the idea was to show Afghanistna as irrational but as unpredictable. It’s a very challenging terrain. Not sure the US setting did it any justice though.

  2. Guy Savage says:

    Caroline: I watched the new Stalingrad about two weeks ago and enjoyed it very much. Unfortunately there’s not much background given to put the film in its context (I’m talking specifically about the house the film centres on, so that will leave many film viewers in the dark.

    • I must confess, I started watching it and couldn’t finish it. I was y disappointed. But I know I shouldn’t write about it before having seen the whole movie.
      No context at all, but I didn’t mind that. I didn’t like the way it was filming. I hate slow motion and there was an overuse.

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