“Lone Survivor,” Peter Berg’s newest film to grace the silver screen, is a rare feature. It is not just another All-American, testosterone-fueled, gritty action film. It is personal. It leaves audiences with a palpable sensation of loss and draws viewers deeply into the moral dilemma of the plot. Violence is not used to make viewers laugh or cheer, but it causes them to sympathize and wince. Ultimately, after watching the film, movie-goers are left with feelings of patriotism, gratitude, and a sobering grasp of the reality of war. Few action films, whether they are based on truth or fiction, are cable of connecting with their audience in this way. Peter Berg has raised the bar for action films, but it is the true story behind this director’s piece that sets his film apart.
“Lone Survivor” follows the lives of Marcus Luttrell and his fellow SEAL Team 10 of soldiers on their 2005 mission to kill a top Al-Qaeda leader in Afghanistan, a mission in which Marcus Luttrell was the sole survivor. During their mission, they are compromised by a few young goat herders in the mountains. The SEALs could either “terminate the compromise” or let them live and risk tipping off the Taliban.
The team lets the group of boys live, but they are soon surrounded by enemy fire. Berg’s use of silence gives this pivotal moment space to breathe. Gut-wrenching, pathetic irony is tangible when these men seal their fates with this final act of kindness. From here on, the audience must watch the group struggle and crawl their way through open fire, as their bodies are tossed and cascaded down rocks and rough edges, all while being pelted by enemy blows. Often, actions sequences like this can come off as “cheesy” or overbearing, but Berg’s use of slow-motion violence and frantic panning and cutting between close-up and long-shots allows this scene to have a true-to-life effect. The audience almost feels as though they are part of this disorientating battle in the mountains.
After showing a presumably real footage clip of the SEALs, the “Lone Survivor”closes by showing pictures of the actual SEALs –– pictures from their wedding day and pictures of them holding their newborn children. Despite all of the toughness and the occasional, witty one-liners, the movie forces its audience to remember that what they witness is based on a real event. Real men lost their lives and left their families behind. Overall, Peter Berg and the cast did these men justice. The director never tried to make political claims about the war, nor did he try to aggrandize these men into Hollywood action heroes. His film is about the humanity and courage of these Navy SEALs. This film well warrants the attention it is receiving. I highly recommend it.