The new movie Lone Survivor, starring Mark Wahlberg, tells a story that is simultaneously heartbreaking and triumphant. Set in Afghanistan, the movie is based on the true story of Operation Red Wings, a covert mission that saw four U.S. Navy SEALs set out to capture or kill Taliban leader Ahmad Shah.
A tale of fraternal bonds
The four actors playing the SEAL team (Wahlberg along with Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster) do a great job of showing the fraternal bonds that develop between guys that spend so much time together in cramped quarters. The scenes before the mission even begins, in the barracks of a U.S. air base in Bahrain, are where we get to see the characters at their most human. Attack plans and mission specs are discussed, but they take a back seat to talks of home renovation, purchasing a pony or plans to haze a new member of the team.
Kitsch's work particularly stands out in a scene when he orders his team to spare the lives of a family of shepherds that could and likely do tip off Taliban forces to the team's presence in the mountains above their village. He's a talented young actor and obviously a favorite of director Peter Berg, who cast the now-32-year-old in the television adaptation of Friday Night Lights and gave him his first big break.
Unfortunately Kitsch hasn't had much success in Hollywood since leaving Dillon, Texas and his character Tim Riggins behind. He's been the leading man in a couple of flops (John Carter and Battleship), and major studios seem to have given up on the idea of him carrying a major film. Sacrificing more screen time for quality screen time makes a big difference for Kitsch. He was actually one of my favorite things about Lone Survivor.
The firefight that results in the deaths of 75% of our heroes goes on way too long. It may be hard to believe, but the sequence goes on so long it actually becomes pretty boring. I understand the importance of making the film seem as realistic as possible and to honor the men whose stories are being told, but the truth is that the vast majority of people that are going to see this movie have never served a day in their life. They don't care how realistic the shootout is. They just want to be entertained. Maybe Berg was just trying to make amends for his last war movie — Battleship, a movie that set a new benchmark for awful cinema.
Lone Survivor is a story that deserves to be told. It shows how thin the line between a perfectly coordinated SEAL team strike and a tragedy really is. The shootout scene was bungled in my opinion, but maybe the real problem with Lone Survivor is the story's hero is just horribly miscast. As a result, this movie comes off as nothing more than an Oscar bid for Mark Wahlberg, who is nearly a decade and a half older than Marcus Luttrell was when the events depicted on screen actually played out in real life.
The book Lone Survivor is a must read, and not only for veterans and those on active duty. It's a book that's just plain hard to put down. If you served in Afghanistan or have experienced covert missions, you will find more to like in the film adaptation than I did, but, in my opinion, as a movie, Lone Survivor is a dud.