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"LONE SURVIVOR"
(2013) (Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Action: Four Navy SEALs come under attack when their covert operation to kill a Taliban leader is compromised and they must use their training, wits and bravery in hopes of getting out alive.
PLOT:
It's 2005 and Operation Red Wings, a combined joint military operation, is being put into motion in the Pech District of Afghanistan's Kunar Province. Set to take place on the slopes of Sawtalo Sar mountain, it's designed to disrupt Anti-Coalition Militia activity in the region, namely through the killing of Ahmad Shah, a local Taliban leader responsible for the deaths of various U.S. military personnel.

While Erik Kristensen (ERIC BANA) runs the operation from the base headquarters -- after a brief moment of levity welcoming in new team member Shane Patton (ALEXANDER LUDWIG) -- four Navy SEALs are covertly dropped into the region. They are team leader Navy Lieutenant Mike Murphy (TAYLOR KITSCH); Petty Officer Second Class Danny Dietz (EMILE HIRSCH); Petty Officer Second Class Matt Axelson (BEN FOSTER); and Navy Hospital Corpsman Second Class Marcus Luttrell (MARK WAHLBERG).

Tasked with observing the area of interest and their target, the team is discovered by local goat herders. From that point on, they must contend with their decision about what to do with those unarmed people, as well as a subsequent onslaught by Taliban forces.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
I'll readily admit I've lead a fairly sheltered life, at least in terms of what horrible things people can do to others where the victims are viewed and treated as nothing more than common vermin. Sure, I've seen pictures and videos and read various accounts of such atrocities, but I've never seen such behavior or results in person, nor have I been subjected to such treatment.

War, of course, is nearly always the epitome of such cruel and inhuman behavior, and it always amazes me to meet people who've been through that and come out, seemingly okay, at least on the outside. Two such men come to mind, with the interesting side note being that both were somewhat small fellows who you simply couldn't see in such predicaments, let alone surviving them.

One was a coworker who told me his tale of being "drafted" by the Vietnamese army in the middle of the night at the age of 14 (after the fall of Saigon) and being sent to Cambodia where he fought trench warfare style for six months before getting the heck out of Dodge. The other was my wife's uncle, a kind and welcoming fisherman who I excitedly told at a family reunion that I had just seen "Saving Private Ryan" a few days earlier. With welling tears in his eyes, he explained that he had been at Normandy on that fateful June morning. I was speechless.

All of which brings us around to this week's release of "Lone Survivor," the adaptation of Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson's 2007 nonfiction book of the same name. While Robinson is a British novelist and newspaper columnist, Luttrell is a former United States Navy SEAL who received the Navy Cross for his actions during a failed 2005 anti-Taliban mission known as Operation Red Wings.

Before our press screening, our local studio rep stated she had been emotionally moved by the film (a reaction I also had, especially during the end credits), and afterwards explained that she accompanied the former Petty Officer First Class as he did the local press tour for the film. I can only imagine I would have been as tongue-tied with him as I was with my coworker and uncle-in-law, especially after seeing this dramatic recreation of what transpired for Luttrell and his team.

A bit more "Black Hawk Down" than "Saving Private Ryan" -- at least in terms of a throughput storyline aside from the penned down mayhem -- the offering is an effective piece of "you are there" filmmaking from writer/director Peter Berg ("Battleship," "Hancock"). Like many a military mission flick, this one starts with scenes of the SEALs training, some playful hazing of a new member, and then fairly to-the-point directives regarding the mission and its desired outcome.

That's when and where the bulk of the film takes place as a four-man SEAL team (played by Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster) are dropped into enemy territory and make their way on the slopes of Sawtalo Sar mountain in Afghanistan's Kunar Province. They're physically distant and high above a village where their target is expected to be.

To their surprise, his entourage is decidedly bigger and better armed than expected, a development that puts them in a bind when some local goat herders accidentally stumble upon the SEALs' hideout. With their mission now compromised, they're faced with the horrible predicament of either killing unarmed civilians or letting them go which will all but assuredly result in the armed forces down below being notified of their whereabouts.

If you've seen any of the trailers or TV ads for the film, you can probably guess which decision was made as well as the repercussions thereof. From an action standpoint, the film excels from that point on, as the small team does what they can in hopes of surviving. It's brutal and sad and heartbreaking, although I'm one-hundred percent sure it's not even remotely close to experiencing the real thing. Despite the dire prediction the title promises, the flick does include a shimmer of hope near the end, paralleling what actually happened in real life and proves that there's just as much good in certain people as there is bad in others.

Aside from the capable direction, stunts and related action choreography, the performances are strong across the board, with Wahlberg eventually getting the lion's share of the screen time playing Luttrell. My only real complaint is that aside from the film's scant introductory moments and related bits of small talk, we don't really know much about these men. While that may be the point that Berg is after, it does remove some degree of emotional connection from the characters and their predicament (aside from what's there by default considering the scenario), especially when compared to the same in something like Spielberg's classic WWII film.

That said, when the ending finally arrived and a series of pics featuring the real life men appeared on screen, I lost it emotionally, not only due to what I had just seen portrayed as fiction, but also from being reminded of the reality and real people behind all of that. Much like my coworker and wife's uncle and what they went through. A testament to what the men and women of our armed services put on the line when in hostile environs, "Lone Survivor" rates as a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed December 4, 2013 / Posted January 10, 2014


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