Can one, in this case Peter Berg, make a film which is engrossing and thrilling which also honors fallen soldiers – individuals who are people like us – and make it all work in a tidy package? Yes, he can and did. At first I honestly didn’t even ask myself whether it was a good film or not. I was so taken with its aim as well as its extraordinary imagery and action (which, as an aside, won a SAG Award last night for Stunt Achievement. Wholly deserving and a cool category. The AA should get with the program on that one…)
Painting us a calm and fairly happy milieu up front Berg spends a good amount of time introducing our scruffy macho core 4: Marcus, Michael, Danny & “Axe” Matt Axelson (respectively Walhberg, Taylor Kitsch, an unusually buff and manly Emile Hirsch & Ben Foster) in an immediate, and slightly too maudlin, way makes us identify, ache, desire (lots of quality beefcake here ladies) and preemptively mourn for them and their loved ones as we know going in folks it’s not going to end well. It’s LONE survivor, not Couple Of survivors, and maybe that prologue was the wise choice. I asked myself repeatedly whether we need that level of intimacy with their back stories to feel for them, to be affected that they gave their LIVES for us and our principles, and I just don’t know. I felt somewhat manipulated by it but in doing so Berg creates totems and touchpoints which effectively carry through the film and allow us to get a glimpse of what these men hold onto help them get through the unthinkable.
Seeing the tactical choreography which leads up to any mission is fascinating. The moving human parts, the machinery, the unfamiliar and piercing terrain, the gizmos and equipment – it’s a turn on. I GET IT. And then…comes the crux of our story. Because filmmakers now have the technology to create visual sequences so realistic that they are hyper-real, does that mean that they are obligated to employ them? How much and where do we amp reality? How do we know what to highlight without direct experience? We don’t obviously and while falling prey to a whisper of video-game action visuals, (which are so omnipresent in action and war films these days its veritably all they are in the end) Berg used his CGI toolkit wisely and breathtakingly, including one of the most awe inspiring and agonizing stunt sequences I have EVER SEEN.
Enslaved to the terrain in which they find themselves the men must make a choice. They must, as I like to say, pick a lane, and it is a decision with too many moving parts and which will inexorably alter all of their lives. There is no do-over here. What is the “right” choice? Is it the one which adheres to the rules of engagement? The one which satisfies your “gut” knowing that you can and will prevent future losses? The one which may be safest and is yet inhumane and illegal? Not choosing is NOT an option, and so they do. You may not like these guys but you love them. You see their “family” in each other and want so badly to protect and save them, as they want that for each other. It’s powerful stuff and I here caution the deeply empathic to leave the room or not go at all. What transpires has been hard for me to shake from my mind so there you have it – mission accomplished. In the end, when it seems beyond hope and reason, a miracle occurs. If this had not been “based on a true story” I would have crafted an epic eye roll and written off the whole damn picture, but it is an actual miracle. And the tears I shed at the choice moment of grace and humanity was worth everything that came before it. Nicely played Berg…nicely played.(3.5 / 5)
Movie Review Lone Survivor