Lone Survivor is a movie equating patriotism with masochism. Not only for a band of U.S. Navy SEAL brothers trapped in a Taliban firefight but audiences enduring Peter Berg's graphic, gripping re-enactment of the event. We're practically held hostage by appreciation for the sacrifices of troops like these, obligated to watch a grisly tribute.
It isn't a pleasant experience, as war shouldn't be. Lone Survivor also isn't as essential as Berg's passion for the project obviously makes him believe it to be. He's not drawn by the story's complexity; this and Captain Phillips are similarly tense movies sprung from real-life crises of duty that could be anticipated. Nor does he focus on calamity created by the fog of war, like this movie's closest relative, Black Hawk Down.
Berg is solely interested in the bond between warriors, not who they are or why they fight but simply that they fight. Lone Survivor will resonate with viewers familiar with combat instinct and the attachments it forges. However, this is nothing more than a well-executed action movie whose basis in fact contrasts with its shortage of details about who we're watching bleed. The Call of Duty crowd will be equally moved.
Lone Survivor is adapted from the Afghan War memoir of Marcus Luttrell (played typically tough by Mark Wahlberg), a member of SEAL Team 10 that in 2005 was assigned to capture or kill a Taliban leader. The mission was compromised when passing goat herders discovered the soldiers. Following rules of engagement with civilians, the herders were released. Within an hour the four SEALs were under fire, scrambling for cover with shredded flesh and shattered bones. A rescue helicopter was shot down, killing 16 more soldiers.
Luttrell was the sole survivor, rescued by Afghan villagers honoring a tradition of protecting strangers from enemies. Berg treats this unlikely rescue almost as an afterthought, and ignores the lasting relationship between Luttrell and his main savior until the final photo of an end credit montage. I'd prefer exploring that unique connection to watching stunt men tumbling down treacherous cliffs for a third time, or another batch of first-person kill shots.
Conveying a visceral sense of warfare's terror is what Berg chiefly seeks, and on that level Lone Survivor handily succeeds. Turning away would be un-American. We're urged to recognize the valor and patriotism of these warriors solely through painstaking depictions of how they suffered, in combat and training to get there. Surely there's more to their legacies than that.
Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall on Twitter.