Writer: Peter Berg
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch
Running time: 121mins
The lowdown: His career not sunk by Battleship, writer/director Peter Berg puts in hard yards to redeem himself with the based-on-true-events Lone Survivor. Mark Wahlberg again demonstrates a commitment to physically gruelling cinema as one of four Navy SEALs caught deep behind Taliban lines in hostile Afghanistan in 2005, enduring a lifetime of punishment as he fights his way out. As politically conservative and enamoured of military hardware as all Berg’s movies, but as bruising survival cinema it is gripping.
The full verdict: Although unapologetically gung-ho, Lone Survivor is a corrective to Battleship and Berg’s 2007 film The Kingdom, which fed the fantasy of every soldier making it home alive.
By its very title Lone Survivor tips off the audience that only one quarter of the four man team will reach friendly turf.
And from the opening we know it will be Wahlberg, playing Marcus Luttrell upon whose book the movie is based.
Who lives and who doesn’t is not Lone Survivor’s chief concern. It’s also not overly bothered with the actual mission – the capture or assassination of a high ranking Taliban leader – codenamed Operation Red Wings.
The movie’s primary focus is lionising the SEALs’ superhuman limits of endurance.
Actual training footage plays over the opening credits, depicting their rigourous/brutalising training/punishment, but it is in the running battle with formidable Taliban forces that Lone Survivor paints the four Americans as Spartan-like warriors.
With masochism levels at 100%, the SEAL creed “anything worth doing is worth overdoing” is fully embraced.
Bullets shred fingers from hands and rip meat off limbs, shrapnel is dug out of open wounds, and a mountain is literally leapt off (in a moment oddly reminiscent of Hot Rod) and the shattered bone bodies then picked up to carry on the fight.
Wahlberg, plus teammates Kitsch (given another shot at fame), Hirsch and Foster, jump in with both feet and it is likely toes, teeth and ribs were broken before Berg called the final cut.
Yet a tense discussion over whether to kill captured Taliban goat herders is a standout scene, conveying the catch-22 of doing the right thing meaning probable death.
A third act firefight with between pro and anti-Taliban villagers seems too idealised to be true, despite apparently being accurate to actual events.
Simplistic, but worth seeing for the moments of blistering combat cinema.