War movies are tricky and they get even trickier when you are dealing with recent wars and actual events. Not only do you have to consider the lingering politics that surround any war, you also have to carefully address how the movie will be received by those who survived the ordeal and by the friends and family of those who did not.
So I totally understand why director Peter Berg took a very vanilla and subtext-free approach to his movie “Lone Survivor.” The movie is based on a SEAL team mission called “Operation Red Wings” that took place in 2005 in Afghanistan.
The mission involved four Navy SEALs who were sent to kill or capture a Taliban leader and then had things go horribly wrong. Since the movie stars Mark Wahlberg and is titled “Lone Survivor,” there’s not a lot of suspense involved in wondering how events are going to play out, but that plays to Berg’s strengths since he’s not known as the most subtle of directors.
Berg is best known for directing movies like “Battleship,” “Hancock” and “Friday Night Lights,” which are all films that don’t exactly sneak up on you.
Since the dawn of movies, filmmakers have used war as a backdrop to say all kinds of profound and interesting things about humanity. Berg isn’t interested in saying anything but “Holy crap! This actually happened!” That is probably why the whole movie feels like the Omaha Beach assault in “Saving Private Ryan.”
While Berg throws you right into the middle of the action with a hand-held camera and jostling visuals, you can’t call his style documentarian. The guy is Hollywood through-and-through, so it’s impossible for him to resist booming explosions and glorious, heroic slow-motion shots.
Wahlberg plays Marcus Luttrell, who, along with Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch), and Matt “Axe” Axelson (Ben Foster), went into the mountains of Afghanistan on this ill-fated mission.
This is a tremendously solid supporting cast. I carry the banner for the Ben Foster Fan Club as this underappreciated, underused actor is crying out for a breakout role. Hirsch is a dude with talent, but can’t quite seem to put it together career-wise. He might be destined for a lifetime of “Hey, it’s that guy” performances.
The guy I really feel sorry for is Kitsch, who was thrust upon us as a fully-formed movie star. He went from virtual unknown to the face of two colossal flops — “John Carter” and the aforementioned “Battleship.” Hollywood loves comebacks, and I’m rooting for the guy, but I’m not sure he has it in him.
So the takeaway here is you’ve got a good cast and interesting subject matter in a movie that hits you over the head like a blunt object. As war movies go, it’s effectively disorienting and gets the job done, but it doesn’t even dare to try to go above and beyond. However, sometimes that’s enough and such is the case with “Lone Survivor.”
“Lone Survivor” is rated R for strong bloody war violence and pervasive language.