Lone Survivor (2013)

How do you keep an audience entertained when they know how your story ends? My assumption strongly tilts in the “it’s not that easy” direction. The mass live for endings, that last twist or reveal, the takeaway they didn’t see coming. There is a direct link between having an emotional connection and not knowing, especially when “not knowing” is worth the wait.

Well, that was my big set up. There was absolutely no secret to what was going to happen in Peter Berg’s Lone Survivor. For one, they named it “Lone Survivor,” I mean obviously something’s up. Then there’s all the promo stuff, like the fact that the poster is just of Mark Wahlberg’s face and the trailer clearly singles his character out as the main focus. Two more.

Anyone willing to do the tiniest bit of homework would see this film was closely based on a true story, thus a single internet search and bam, you know what happens. The final and most relevant comes from the first scene within the film itself.

Marcus Luttrell’s story is very real. Inspiration floods the tale, and heartbreak even more so. Lone Survivor recounts the mission of a four-man Navy SEAL recon team gone terribly wrong as a part of Operation Red Wings. By chance the team is left with a moral decision, which ultimately results in a small pro-Taliban army hunting them through a rough Afghan mountainside.

Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster, and Emile Hirsch were given the opportunity to play Navy SEALs Hospital Corpsman Marcus Luttrell, Lieutenant Michael Murphy, Petty Officer Matthew Axelson, and Petty Officer Danny Dietz respectively. Having not been in the Navy, Marines, or soldier of any kind, I cannot really express the validity of their portrayal. However, what I can do is express the emotional takeaway of an audience member.

Strength and loyalty are two overshadowing characteristics of these soldiers I believe everyone in the audience took home with them. The actions of these SEALs were shocking and their tolerance is beyond my comprehension. It is interesting then how after all this, my standstill view of the military was left resolutely unwavering. I’m not sure if this means my respect for our armed forces has peaked, I hope not. In fact, I like to think of it as a perpetual fondness.

Still, it is an interesting conundrum I’d like to explore further. Since the killing of Osama bin Laden, there has been a nationwide salute to everything Navy SEALs. The idea of a SEAL has been given the ultimate respect and maybe the film industry has slightly taken advantage. But knocking the film industry seems wrong, for they are spreading the word, giving respect where respect is due.

Yet for better or for worse, when I sat down in that theater and watched all the amazing courageous acts and unexplainable will to continue, I expected it. Because of all the things I’ve read or watched, my mindset was “this is what they’re supposed to do,” even though their feats were pretty much superhuman. Again, I’m not sure if this is good or bad. My gut tells me it’s an unfair outlook.

This brings me to my second topic of choice. Namely the Romanticization of warfare. Hollywood is damn good at this. Even though this sounds like a complaint, it’s really not. Some of the best films do this beautifully – Saving Private RyanApocalypse NowThe Hurt Locker, and countless others – needless to say there’s always been a fortified connection between war and film. Obviously there is a high entertainment value to the genre, but look closer and you will find the best filmmakers bring a poetic aspect to their content.

So, is the real thing the opposite of what’s seen on the big screen? Opposite is a harsh word, but it seems there are aspects fiction will never be able to unearth. Coincidentally, one doesn’t even have to leave the film industry to understand what I’m saying.

Documentaries are an invaluable resource to my point. Take Restrepo for example, this film keeps all the fear and grit of war contained for the eyes of the viewer. You see the battle, hear a gunfight, and witness the aftermath all from one perspective.

What Lone Survivor has that any war documentary lacks is multiple perspectives. You get the view of every SEAL, pro-Taliban fighters, the men at base camp, and civilians. It’s lively, it’s face paced, and convincingly emotional. I guess what I’m trying to convey in so many words is just understand it’s different.

Lone Survivor tells an important story. It is no secret film is the best way to spread information on a massive scale. Props to Mr. Luttrell for bringing his story this far. Something not easily accomplished, which for some reason releases that unfortunate thought in the back of my head, if the mission went as planned nobody would even know or care about Operation Red Wings.

But it didn’t, the memories of the fallen remain with the story. If you want to understand what these men went through, what they gave up, the lives they saved, or maybe the idea of a SEAL, who they are, for now Lone Survivor is your most valuable option.

Lone Survivor (2013) directed by Peter Berg

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