Our Score: 4.5 out of 5 stars
You’re deep in the mountains of Afghanistan and you’re there to eliminate a dangerous Taliban leader. The only problem is, during recon, you’ve been discovered. Three goat herders have stumbled across you. One of them is a weathered old man, another is a young boy and completing the trio is a bitter young adult whose body language screams hatred. You can kill them and continue with the mission. Or you could leave them tied up to starve to death or get eaten by wolves. Or you can let them go and risk the entire mission and your safety. It’s not easy to kill and it’s not easy to condemn a man to death. It’s even harder to give yourself that fate. “Lone Survivor” is about four soldiers making that decision and witnessing hell.
The title makes it easy to assume things will not turn out well. This is reinforced by an establishing sequence of events showing you Marcus (Wahlberg) being brought in by helicopter, covered in blood stained bandages. Nonetheless the movie’s first 40 minutes attempts to establish our four main men. Besides Marcus, there’s Michael (Kitsch), Danny (Emile Hirsch) and Matt (Ben Foster). Before we have time to digest their personalities or soak in their background, we’re being thrust into Operation Red Wing. The goal is to kill or capture Ahmad Shah. The operation is being headed by Lieutenant Commander Erik (Bana). Just like our four main characters, we’re not acquainted long enough with Erik before he’s commanding our boys into the Kunar province. That’s where a routine part of the mission, surveillance, goes haywire.
The conversation between the soldiers is very honest. It’s not a decision any of us could ever make. It’s a moral dilemma that reveals a very human side to war. It’s easy to sympathize with both sides of the argument, but it’s clear what the decision will be: Letting the goat herders live. As far as movies about modern war go, this one deserves to be one of the models on how it’s done. The direction plops us right into the middle of the action as they realize their decision has doomed them. Some shots are so viciously intimate you feel twitches of pain watching these men’s bodies crack and break. The cinematography adds such a brutal touch to the shootout and the camera is not afraid of getting a bit bloody.
The best thing this movie does is avoid any kind of political stance. In a time where we continue to bicker about the “what ifs” of our contemporary wars, it’s a bit refreshing to watch a movie that’s nonpolitical. Instead of beating the war drums or waving the banner of peace, I feel that this movie’s purpose is to be a harsh slap of reality. We don’t need director Peter Berg to build up the human side of our characters before showcasing their fears and realizations of mortality because we’ve spent over a decade realizing some harsh truths about our world. Inherently, we already know the terror that happens overseas. We’ve also read and have seen the mental, emotional and physical toll of America’s soldiers. Berg simply let’s the story unfold naturally and gives us a very brisk and unsettling true-to-life battle.