Lone Survivor

Year: 2014
Production Co: Film 44
Director: Peter Berg
Writer: Peter Berg/Marcus Luttrell/Patrick Robinson
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch, Eric Bana

This movie almost bridges the gap between soulful dramatic investigation into the heart and mind of a modern soldier and rip roaring action movie – in fact it comes closer to doing so than many films with similar designs have come, including American Sniper.

It doesn't make it all the way there because many of the problems that plague this kind of movie are still too evident. We're supposed to deplore the senseless violence of war but we love nothing more than when anti-American heathens get blown away.

The action is supposed to be horrifying (and it is, thanks to very visceral shooting by director Peter Berg that gives it something many military action films lack – a genuine sense of fear) but it's fun and thrilling because it's so well done.

It's realistic and gritty, then we get the slow motion, Christ-like, rapturous and heroic death of squad leader Murphy (Taylor Kitsch). It only takes one bullet to take down a bad guy but the injuries the good guys end up with make it look like they've been through a meat grinder. Alexson (Ben Foster) even gets shot through the eye and he's still standing to fight.

There's some reason to believe most of what's depicted is accurate, because it's based on a book by the one guy who got out (not a spoiler – check the name of the movie again), but I'm sure very large liberties were taken with facts.

And of course, there's the big one that plagues any movie about the American military of the last 20 or so years – we're supposed to feel for these men and what they have to do to survive, when the political reality is that they're there under completely false pretenses.

Just like in American Sniper, we get to see American soldiers decide whether foreign peasants are guilty or innocent and live or die, and we're supposed to accept that their safety and protection is of paramount concern even when they're in the homeland of the people they're threatening to shoot, kicking in the doors of their houses, etc.

A squad of soldiers is deposited on a hillside in Afghanistan to track a gang of Taliban heavies terrorising the area. They're discovered by a goat herder and his two sons and have to face a very hard decision – let them go and risk being ratted out to the swarms of bad guys they've now seen, or kill them right then and be sure their presence goes unnoticed.

They do the right thing and let the goat herders go and of course it costs them, the scowling eldest son immediately running down the hill to tattle to the evil Taliban overlord, and suddenly the guys are overrun.

They try desperately to stay out of the way of the swarms of turban-wearing cannon fodder coming at them by shooting back (mostly uphill) hunkering down and – when the heats gets too much – having to throw themselves off the next precipice, hoping they don't break anything important as they crash down the mountainside to the next level ground.

Unlike the fantasy-tinged Battleship (also by Berg), this one is solidly in the real world, and as an action movie director Berg approaches Paul Greengrass' level, putting you right in the heat of very scary fighting using remarkable technical filmmaking skill. You can appreciate that artistry of that aspect, but the film's downfall is the continued and unquestioning deification of the American soldier.

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