Lone Survivor: A Sleeper Hit & the Truth About Man-to-Man Combat

ImageWhen I was young, and first saw the film Saving Private Ryan, I gained a further appreciation for history, story-telling and respect for those who endured one of the most chaotic times in recent human history.

Lone Survivor is an important film, one that does not glorify armed combat but rather uses realistic violence and images to tell the truth about how men have the hardest job in the world: protecting those who cannot protect themselves. When the world is in chaos, it is ultimately men who carry the beast of burden of protecting the world against other men.

Just like in the first 30 minutes of Saving Private Ryan, the Afghanistan battle sequence in Lone Survivor is realistically and relentlessly violent, graphic and above all, honest. The film does not let up it in its intensity both on an emotional and visual scale. It isn’t for the “faint of heart” viewer.

The reward for having endured this horrific and violent tale is that of finding truth as a viewer; the truth about man-to-man combat in modern times. Lone Survivor has nothing to do with politics or about how a SEAL team chased a ghost (Bin Laden) to a supposed hide out just steps away from Pakistan’s equivalent of West Point. If you are looking for a piece of establishment-shit propaganda/fairy-tale like that, go watch Zero Dark Thirty or CNN — or any alphabet news agency for that matter.

Director Peter Berg spares nothing in trying to capture exactly what can, and did, go wrong on the ground during one specific mission that was triggered by America’s so-called War on Terror. The portrayal of reality in this film is worth the watch even though the movie is ultimately narrow-minded and intensely focused.

The film, unlike Zero Dark Thirty, is based on verified accounts from the non-fiction book by former U.S Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell and collaborator Patrick Robinson- Lone Survivor. Luttrell tells the story of his training and recruitment along with the fateful mission in June of 2005 that left him as the “lone survivor” of his Recon team of Operation Red Wings. The mission was set up to target a leading Taliban terrorist.

It all went terribly wrong.

Mark Wahlberg plays Luttrell, with Tyler Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster as the rest of the core group of four SEAL squad who’s heroic and desperate actions were at the heart of Operation Red Wings. Eric Bana, Alexander Ludwig and Ali Suliman number among the supporting cast as Berg clinically re-constructs reality — with some license taken to compress timelines of course.

All performances are well executed and in particular the best comes from the core group. The casts boot-camp training clearly paid off for this film (yes, they had to go through training to fully understand how to act, move and feel like a Navy SEAL) No one looks out of place in the film. You immediately forget that these are actors playing men who, for the most part, died on the mission. Everything from the Recon squad based tactics (fire and manoeuvre, fall-back protocols, COMM checks etc) checks out in feeling close to seeing an actual fire fight take place and what tactics are involved.

Berg does a great job in showing and capturing how squads actually function in combat and how each individual has a certain role. In addition, the film also points out the main difficulties that the U.S has/had in going into the Middle East. Having the element of surprise is cherished in battle; however, the real advantage is that of a home advantage. The U.S and the squad in Operation Red Wings came across terrain and an enemy they weren’t particularly accustomed too/familiar with fighting.

One of the films singular strengths is that, in an intimate way, it puts a face on both American soldiers and the Afghan Pashtun villagers who became involved in Luttrell’s fate. The Taliban, however, are presented simply as ‘the enemy’. This is not a criticism, just an observation. In addition, the films message and plot centers on the hotly debated topic of the rules of combat and more importantly, engagement. The Rules of Engagement in this film are debated in the middle of a crisis — not on an internet forum or coffee shop. These brave men have to make snap decisions that always ride on the safety of themselves, innocents and the security of the mission. This also counts for something as we get to see the reality behind what goes on when decisions are made during war time and how morality collides in doing so.

Berg avoids getting too political with the film, and for this I thank him. Instead of leaving political traps throughout the film for the viewer to fall into, the film instead gets into the mechanics of war and how the Operation was flawed from its start. The mission was wrought with military intelligence mistakes and operational logistics concerning transportation protocols for the field operations of Black Hawk Helicopters in conjunctions with Chinooks ( they always need to be escorted via protocol). The film addresses how U.S Military budget  cuts ( starting from 2005-2010), and the over-extension of the armed forces throughout the world played a role in the nature of Operation Red Wings.

It’s about depending on the other man beside you since that is all you have when the SHTF (Shit Hits the Fan). Lone Survivor is ultimately both drama and a virtual documentary populated with haunting memories. Lone Survivor may be difficult, and even impossible for some viewers to endure. It is draining emotionally to watch and is not for the weak stomach. However, it is an important and well-made film and has thus proven to be a surprise hit at the box offices.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. jjames36 says:

    Good review.

    I agree the combat sequences are handled quite well.

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