"Lone Survivor" is a very intense close-up visualization of the best-selling memoir about a botched Navy SEALs raid in Afghanistan written by the only man who lived to tell the tale, Marcus Luttrell.
Peter Berg's film rates comparisons to "Black Hawk Down" as an unflinching account of a U.S. military operation in the Middle East gone very wrong. The film is concerned only with what directly confronts the characters at any given moment.
Under the cover of night on June 27-28, 2005, four SEALs are quietly dropped by helicopter into rugged mountains from which the men can view a village and possibly neutralize a Taliban bigwig and bin Laden insider who holds sway there and allegedly killed 20 marines the week before.
The quartet consists of Lt. Mike Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Petty Officer 1st Class Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg) Petty Officers 2nd Class Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) and Matt Axelson (Ben Foster). Radio communication is sketchy but good enough, they believe, to rely on.
Their mission is compromised when a local shepherd spots them.
In no time, armed Taliban are everywhere.
Many Taliban members go down, but they keep on coming and with increasingly powerful weapons, including rocket-propelled grenades.
As the foursome move around, seeking better protection and fighting positions on a craggy, irregularly wooded landscape, they are more injured by the minute.
They are ripped by bullets and cut up by explosions and flying debris.
To emphasize the trauma of impact, when the men tumble down to a rocky slope, Berg begins in slow-motion and then he shifts into high gear the moment they slam into trees or rocks. This automatically makes you flinch.
Unfortunately, it also yanks you out of the experience, creating instant distance.
"Lone Survivor" no doubt accomplishes everything it wants to achieve: it drops the viewer right in with the SEALs, makes you admire their toughness, bravery and abilities, and puts you through the wringer.
It also makes you realize that, if they're forced to make a tough decision, it might not be the right one.
When Luttrell's three colleagues eventually succumb to their innumerable wounds and a rescue chopper carrying eight more SEALs and eight Army soldiers is shut down by the Taliban, making for 19 American fatalities in all, the specter of tragedy and senseless loss suffuses everything and is repeated again at the end when photographs of the real-life soldiers and their loved ones parade by one by one.
For Luttrell, after all the other deaths, survival is still a long shot, and suspense stretches across his period of partial recovery while being hidden in a small village that's constantly’subjected to Taliban inspection.
Wahlberg at 42, is significantly older than Luttrell (29 at the time of the incident) or any of the 19 killed, but he still has the right stuff to convince the audience as a tough and super-fit SEAL whose breaking point is far beyond the norm.
The rocky, forested mountains and expansive deserts of New Mexico plausibly stand in for Afghan locations.
You will be happy you saw this film in the theater.