Combustible Celluloid
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With: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster, Eric Bana
Written by: Peter Berg, based on a book by Marcus Luttrell, Patrick Robinson
Directed by: Peter Berg
MPAA Rating: R for strong bloody war violence and pervasive language
Running Time: 127
Date: 12/27/2013

Lone Survivor (2013)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Operation Red Wings

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Nothing in writer/director Peter Berg's career -- certainly not the awful Battleship, but not even The Kingdom, another story inspired by the wars in the middle east -- would indicate that he had anything like Lone Survivor in him.

In 2005, a team of four Navy SEALs is sent on a mission to take out a high-ranking Taliban leader, who is hiding somewhere in an Afghanistan mountain range.

The SEALs -- Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), Matthew Axelson (Ben Foster), and Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) -- locate and identify him, and settle into their hiding places to wait for nightfall.

Unfortunately, three goatherders accidentally discover them; they are carrying a walkie-talkie, and thus our SEALs must assume that they are in contact with the enemy.

Murphy makes the tough decision to let them go and to abort the mission. Unfortunately, before our heroes can reach safety, the alerted Taliban begin a brutal chase and shootout.

Eric Bana co-stars as a Lieutenant Commander who tries to help from base camp.

As the title indicates, only one man escapes. Wounded and exhausted, he is discovered by some Afghan Pashtun villagers, but thanks to their centuries-old tribal belief, he finds himself sheltered and hidden.

Lone Survivor begins with Navy SEAL training footage and ends with photos of the participants of the real-life events, but Berg's movie avoids reverence while still respecting the material.

It is a truly physical experience, incorporating fear, doubt, loss, alarm, and anguish into its adrenaline-fueled, gut-punch sequences. It could even induce tears in grown men.

For once, Berg avoids too much camera-shaking in his depictions of the bloody battle, using three-dimensional space and expert editing to emphasize shock and movement like the futile scrambling from danger to safety.

Moreover, the movie builds adrenaline without tipping too far into either excitement or horror.

In one scene, our heroes must escape the line of fire by jumping from a high cliff. They tumble helplessly down, rolling over gear, bashing heads and limbs on stray stones. It's neither thrilling nor gruesome, but it grabs you by the guts.

More importantly, Berg initially spends a little time with the four characters while they talk of random, personal things: girlfriends who decorate, upcoming weddings, etc.

This genuine camaraderie serves as shorthand when the chaos ensues.

But the movie's moment comes with an unexpected comradeship, the help of a total stranger. The final, earned moments showcase that kind of human spirit that movies often advertise but so infrequently actually show.

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