Saturday, January 18, 2014

Lone Survivor review

SPOILER: Only one of them survives.
Lone Survivor is the true story of the botched Navy SEAL operation that left all but one dead. So first off lest me say that I feel very conflicted about this movie. On one hand, it's a very well-shot, fairly inspirational, decently directed, and well acted true war film that can be quite gripping. On the other hand, it really isn't sure on what it wants to say, the dialog is really not very good at all, and it doesn't seem to really have an underlying message. While part of me liked the film, another part of me really didn't. I feel very torn. Lone Survivor is directed by Peter Berg. He's the "acclaimed" director of such "classics" like Battleship. I'm using parentheses because Battleship really sucked. Regardless of Lone Survivor's faults, it's still a huge step up from Battleship. While Battleship was a stupid, pointless, vapid, and loud movie, Lone Survivor is much better made and is at least trying to be a good movie. Granted, it's still not great. At first, the film seems like it wants to be an uber patriotic movie filled with lots of Proud-To-Be-American kind of moments that almost border on propaganda. While this could get irritating, it's not the worst thing a film could do. Then the tone switches to what seems to be a very anti-war film. Showing the gritty, gruesome, and downright horrifying aspects of war. You see Americans getting shot with blood spurting everywhere and bones sticking out. People are dying and it's pretty sad and pretty scary. It only shows the American point of view though. The Afghan troops are nothing more then nameless enemies that need to be shot down. While I completely understand that the Taliban are horrible, horrible war criminals, I still think they should have at least tried to show things from there point of view. Or maybe just show where these people's hatred is coming from. Instead it focuses solely on the Americans. I get that this is about the American soldiers but I feel like they could have approached the Afghans differently then they did. If the film had taken a single stance and stuck with it, that would be okay with me. If it was a very patriotic war movie focusing on the sheer heroism and honor of the soldiers, that'd be fine. If it had been an adamant anti-war movie like Platoon, that'd be just as fine. But instead it's stuck in the middle. Often times, Lone Survivor seems to be trying to say something meaningful. Yet, it gets lost in translation. I know it sounds like I'm really hating on the movie, I suppose I am, but that doesn't mean I hated it. While it had numerous problems, it still did a lot of things fairly well. For one, it was really intense and absorbing. Ridley Scott made a similar war film a few years ago (coincidentally also co-starring Eric Bana) called Black Hawk Down. I hated it. It focused 100% on these loud violent battle scenes and nothing else.  I can appreciate a well done fight sequence and there have been some great ones (think Saving Private Ryan), but Scott really overdid it. The whole movie was one overlong mess of a battle scene. It got really boring. Lone Survivor could have easily fallen into being a movie like that. Besides a few scenes in the beginning and end, the film is pretty much one long battle. Yet, Peter Berg manages to make this whole exciting and gritty battle also tense and emotional with at least a little focus on character. Well actually he only really focuses on Mark Wahlberg's character (the aforementioned 'Lone Survivor'). The rest of the cast isn't developed much and isn't given all that much time to shine. Their deaths are the only time they get some real focus. It's not a huge deal and doesn't really hamper the film too much, but it is a bit annoying. The film is definitely helped by some great performances by Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Taylor Kitsch, and Emile Hirsch. While there's little focus on the other characters besides Mark Wahlberg, they all still do a bang up job. I was actually pretty surprised. It also helps how beautiful this all looks. There are some breathtaking shots of this sweeping Afghan landscape and the movie as a whole looks very polished and good. Even though some of the choices Pete Berg made here really ticked me off, I was still wowed by how damn beautiful everything looked. Regardless of everything, the film was incredibly well shot. Yet, none of those wonderful shots were really used to say something. At least the movie could have tried a little harder for an anti-war message. I felt like Berg was trying to say some things here, but just didn't follow through. One thing the movie did succeed in doing, was telling an inspirational true story that is pretty damn amazing. It wasn't told in the best way, but it was fairly gripping at times and it was very well shot. And it certainly did benefit from Wahlberg's performance. I didn't hate it, I just felt it could've been done a lot better. Maybe if it was made by a Born on the Fourth of July-era Oliver Stone with access to today's technology. Now THAT would be a movie right there. It's inspirational and gripping, but not that great in other ways. I give Lone Survivor 3.2 out of 5 stars. Happy Viewing y'all. If you haven't already, you should definitely follow me on Twitter @WhitsMovies and like me on Facebook at Thanks for reading.            


  1. Good review Whit. The fact that Berg keeps his attention set on the soldiers is what makes it really worth watching. Also, a hell of a lot more emotional as these were real-lives lost, all for a mission that, in essence, seems rather pointless. However, that's another discussion for another day.

    1. Thanks Dan! I didn't think of it that way, but it's a good point. It does seem very sad.