Writer’s note: I am purposefully not relating the actors to the characters in my review so that I don’t have to tell you who the lone survivor is. Of course, you can look it up yourself, if you like.
What’s in a name? In the case of Peter Berg’s latest film, LONE SURVIVOR, pretty much everything. This is a war movie about a small group of navy SEALs on a dangerous mission in Afghanistan, in June of 2005, and the title implies that only one of these fine, young men will make it home alive. Any intelligent filmgoer could surmise that the biggest name actor above the title is the likeliest survivor, but Berg is craftier than I expected him to be (which is understandable given my opinion of him wasn’t too high coming off 2012’s BATTLESHIP). No, Berg does away with any notion that you will be on the edge of your seat throughout wondering who will make it out of this mission in tact. Instead of playing it that way, he tells you right up front who makes it, which makes the film about so much more than just one lone survivor. Instead, LONE SURVIVOR shines a light on and rightfully commends the selflessness that is required of a man in uniform in order to properly serve his country.
Berg also tells us at the onset that LONE SURVIVOR is based on a true story; in this particular case, it is actually based on a memoir that is based on a true story. Former navy SEAL, Marcus Luttrell, is the lone survivor of Operation Red Wings, which was designed to take out a top Taliban operative, Ahmad Shahd. Lutrell was joined on this mission, or at least on the front line portion of the mission, by three other SEALs. These four men are played by, in alphabetical order, Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch, Taylor Kitsch and Mark Wahlberg. Together, they command the film as a fearless foursome; their bond is quite believable and all four gentlemen bring their best selves to the parts. Their journey starts off in a somewhat conventional fashion, back at the base before anything begins. All four have ladies waiting for them at home, so they all have high stakes to lose just by being there, and there is plenty of camaraderie and rough housing to be had amongst all the men. Once the mission gets started though, LONE SURVIVOR becomes immediately tense and stays that way almost right through to the end.
A moral dilemma, in which case the men take the high road, is what ultimately leads to their demise. As they await in hiding outside a Taliban camp, they are spotted by a seemingly innocent goat herder and his two younger boys. Rather then shoot them dead, which would spark international scandal once it got out, they decide to let them go, abort the mission and make a run for it. They aren’t running long before they find themselves outnumbered and under heavy fire with no means of communication to their home base. It is a dire situation, made only more dire for the viewer because we know that this, or at least a reasonably similar variation of this, actually happened to four brave men. They fight alongside each other, taking bullet after bullet and brushing them off as if they were mosquito bites. Their resolve is unflinching and Berg captures their emotion, their ferocity and their cunning brilliantly. There is no trace whatsoever of critique of or challenge to the war itself to be found in LONE SURVIVOR; there is only brotherhood personified.