Sealed fates in 'Lone Survivor' 

click to enlarge Lone Survivor
  • Courtesy photo
  • From left, Taylor Kitsch, Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster and Emile Hirsch play Navy SEALs in the exciting “Lone Survivor.”
Nothing in writer-director Peter Berg’s career — certainly not the awful “Battleship,” and not even “The Kingdom,” another story inspired by the wars in the Middle East — would indicate he had anything like “Lone Survivor” in him.

Based on a book by Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson, the film is set in 2005, when a team of four Navy SEALs is sent on a mission to take out a high-ranking Taliban leader hiding in an Afghanistan mountain range.

The SEALs — Lt. Michael P. Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), Matthew Axelson (Ben Foster) and Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) — locate and identify him, and they settle into their hiding places to wait for nightfall.

Unfortunately, three goatherders accidentally discover them. Because they are carrying a walkie-talkie, the SEALs must assume they are in contact with the enemy.

Murphy makes the tough decision to let them go and to abort the mission. Unfortunately, before our heroes can reach safety, the alerted Taliban begin a brutal chase and shootout.

As the title indicates, only one man escapes. Wounded and exhausted, he is discovered by Afghan Pashtun villagers, but thanks to their centuries-old tribal belief, he finds himself sheltered and hidden.

While “Lone Survivor” begins with Navy SEAL training footage and ends with photos from true events, the movie is a respectful dramatization of a real failed mission.

It is a truly physical experience, incorporating fear, doubt, loss, alarm and anguish into its adrenaline-fueled, gut-punch sequences. It could even induce tears in grown men.

For once, Berg avoids too much camera-shaking in his depictions of the bloody battle. He uses three-dimensional space and expert editing to emphasize shock and movement, like the soldiers’ futile scrambling from danger to safety.

Moreover, the movie builds adrenaline in attention-getting, but not excessive, ways.

In one scene, our heroes escape the line of fire by jumping from a high cliff. Helplessly tumbling and rolling over gear, they bash their heads and limbs on stray stones. It’s neither thrilling nor gruesome, but it grabs you by the guts.

Another positive is how Berg initially spends a little time with the four main characters while they talk of random, personal things — girlfriends who decorate, upcoming weddings, etc. The genuine camaraderie serves as shorthand when the chaos ensues.

Yet a bigger moment comes with an unexpected comradeship — the help of a total stranger — which showcases the kind of human spirit often seen in ads for films, but rarely in actual movies.


Lone Survivor

Starring Taylor Kitsch, Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch

Written and directed by Peter Berg

Rated R

Running time 2 hours, 1 minute

About The Author

Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jeffrey M. Anderson has written about movies for the San Francisco Examiner since 2000, in addition to many other publications and websites. He holds a master's degree in cinema, and has appeared as an expert on film festival panels, television, and radio. He is a founding member of the San Francisco Film Critics... more
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