U/A: Action Drama
Dir: Peter Berg
Cast: Mark Wahlberg
Director Peter Berg faced a lot of flak when the misbegotten Battleship released and bombed without a trace two years ago.
Mark Wahlberg in 'Lone Survivor'
Not only was it panned critically, but its box office figures were pretty much non-existent. It cost the studio hundreds of millions of dollars. Most filmmakers never recover from that kind of criticism and commercial flop - look at what happened to Renny Harlin after Cutthroat Island.
So it’s great that Berg managed to wrangle out of that mess and decided to make a smaller, but more interesting film next, and succeeded at it.
While Battleship was a military recruitment ad, Lone Survivor is more of a eulogy to American troops posted in Afghanistan. However, it does have the trademark Peter Berg verite style cinematography, with the camaraderie and the alternative rock music, and characters developed just enough to make you feel bad for them when they’re about to die.
The film is based on the true story of Marcus Luttrell (played by Mark Wahlberg), a 2005 Navy SEAL who leads a covert four person team to Afghanistan to eliminate a potential Taliban leader attacking US forces. It’s a suicide mission, the terrain is unforgivable and they’re four people against two hundred Taliban soldiers. As expected, Murphy takes over and everything that can possibly go wrong goes horribly wrong.
With that setup under way, the majority of the film becomes a sort of a Black Hawk Down set in the Hindukush mountains, where Michael P. Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Matthew Axelson (Ben Foster) and Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) struggle to stay alive in a rain of bullets. It doesn’t have the artistry of that Ridley Scott movie, but it does have a few character moments where the actors get to be, well, themselves. There’s not much to differentiate Wahlberg from every other character he was ever and the film becomes a guessing game to figure out who survives the skirmish, thanks to the imaginative title.
Berg develops some brutal action sequences to keep you interested and the actors clearly worked hard to bulk up and train for their roles. There’s plenty of blood, gore, shouting and running around and the film works whenever all those things are happening. It’s when the film tries to be a heartfelt and deep drama with philosophical questions that it stumbles inelegantly.
The actors and the direction are just not polished or sensitive enough to cross over to the earnest territory and you wish the film stops pretending to be more than what it actually is.