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New Release Review - Lone Survivor

Dramatization of a disastrous 2005 Navy Seals assignment in Afghanistan.

Directed by: Peter Berg
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster, Eric Bana


Afghanistan, 2005. Four Navy Seals are sent into Taliban territory with the task of capturing prominent Taliban leader Ahmad Shah. While the men are observing Shah's camp from the cover of a wooded mountain, a local goat-herder and two young boys stumble across them. Lieutenant Michael Murphy (Kitsch) outlines three possible courses of action: let the interlopers go and risk blowing their position, tie them to trees where they will likely die from hypothermia or be ravaged by wolves, or execute them on the spot. Two of the men, Danny Dietz (Hirsch) and Matthew Axelson (Foster), push for the latter option but sniper Marcus Luttrell argues for letting their captives go, reminding the others of the hostile reaction an execution would receive in the US media. Murphy agrees with Luttrell and sets the goat-herders loose. The men's fears are confirmed when the Taliban are immediately made aware of their location and proceed to engage the vastly outnumbered Seals in a firefight.
Peter Berg's latest machismo-fest, based on an autobiographical book by Navy Seal Marcus Luttrell, has stirred up quite a controversy in the US. Those on the political left have branded it a propaganda piece, little more than an expensive recruitment campaign for the US military, while their cousins on the right seem to blindly defend the film, accusing its critics of anti-Americanism and "helping the terrorists". Viewing the movie from across the Atlantic, away from the "culture war" that seems to be tearing America apart for the past decade, I find it odd that supporters of the US military would defend Lone Survivor, as it's closer to a hatchet job than a work of propaganda.
Berg's portrayal of how the US military operates is far from encouraging and the level of incompetency displayed by the Seal team is implausible. The film opens with a montage of real life Seal training footage, outlining the extreme conditions recruits must undergo to sort out the men from the boys. What Berg ignores is that being the best of the best isn't limited to physical abilities, a Navy Seal must be of superior intellect, possessing the ability to make the right decisions under immense pressure. The Seals in Lone Survivor, however, are idiots who wouldn't have a chance of making the grade in reality.
It's impossible to take this bunch of halfwits seriously as special ops soldiers. Wahlberg, Kitsch and Hirsch come off like three surfers on a paintball excursion while Foster seems to think he's playing a psychopath ("I am the reaper," he intones before taking out a "Haji" with his rifle). From the off, all four behave implausibly, making one stupid decision after the other. When the mission is aborted, rather than tying up their three inconvenient visitors and taking them along to the pickup point before releasing them, the Seals set them free, knowing it's going to lead to a gunfight. When the battle begins, Hirsch amateurishly gives away their position by shouting his head off. Foster is killed because he ludicrously emptied an over the top number of rounds into an enemy corpse. A score of soldiers are killed in a rescue chopper because Kitsch neglects to warn them that the enemy is in possession of a rocket launcher.
This would all be fine were this a work of complete fiction, but in exaggerating the incompetence of his protagonists for the sake of drama, Berg has done a gross injustice to men who died bravely in the service of their country. Ironically, he attempts to atone for this by ending his film with a montage of photos of the real men who died that day, accompanied by a cover version of David Bowie's 'Heroes'. If Berg honestly believes these men are heroes, couldn't he have portrayed them as such in the preceding film?
4/10


Eric Hillis

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