Jan. 13, 2014. As good as this film is, “Lone Survivor” is a pretty terrible title as it contains a huge spoiler. The story follows a four-man team of Navy SEALs sent to Afghanistan to assassinate a Taliban leader. As soon as I saw the trailer, I said aloud, “so three of them die?”
Granted, anyone who is familiar with the real-life incident, has read the book by lone survivor Marcus Luttrell, or has seen Luttrell in his various media appearances knows what’s going to happen, but I would still have preferred some mystery. Fortunately, there are enough positive elements in this film to make up for the lack of suspense over the characters’ fates.
The team is made up of Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), Matthew Axelson (Ben Foster), Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch) and Danny Dietz (Emile HIrsch). After an opening montage on the toughness of SEAL training, we’re introduced to our characters and learn a bit about their personal lives (ironically, Luttrell’s seems to come up the least). We also follow Shane Patton (Alexander Ludwig), a new arrival at the characters’ camp, as he introduces himself to the others. I probably could have done with less Patton in favor of developing the others, as his character is barely seen after the main four go off on their mission.
The mission goes awry when the team runs into radio trouble. And they put themselves at a bad angle for the shots they need. And the target’s entourage is bigger than expected. And they’re found out by some local goat herders. The trailers make it look like the team spends a lot of time trying to decide what to do with the civilian witnesses, but the scene is actually quite quick. Then again, the decision carries a lot of weight, so to Luttrell it probably felt like it took forever.
Action scenes ensue and they are by far the best parts of the movie. The shooting is less bloody than I expected, but what these scenes lack in crimson they make up for in sound. The film’s sound team really outdid themselves here because every single gunshot will strike the fear of death into you. Even more powerful than the gunshots are the sounds the team makes as they tumble down embankments. There’s a lot of crunching and we can’t tell what’s breaking but we know it can’t be good. The falling scenes are the movie’s secret weapon.
Less exciting is the final act of the movie. These scenes are undeniably important to the story (and to Luttrell personally) but they feel anticlimactic. It’s like the film wanted to end at a certain point and then remembered that it had to include these scenes so it tacked them on. There’s an odd tonal shift to these scenes, perhaps because Luttrell was in a damaged state at the time and it affected his memory and narrative voice.
“Lone Survivor” will be best remembered for its action scenes, and what excellent action scenes they are. They go on for a long time too; once they’re over you’ll have a hard time remembering the last time the movie was relatively quiet. The rest of the film is just okay, a pretty standard “brothers in arms” story with a controversial debate scene thrown in. There’s some real-life argument over what the debate actually entailed, as well as whose fault it was that the mission got botched. Surely there are some people to blame, but I didn’t leave the film blaming anyone. Indeed it’s hard to leave “Lone Survivor” without the utmost respect for these men who in all but one case fought for our freedom until the very end.
Two and a half stars out of five.