Film review: Lone Survivor (15, 121 min)

Hollywood’s unlikely tale without flesh

Friday, 31st January 2014, 6:00 am
Lone Survivor: Mark Wahlberg
Lone Survivor: Mark Wahlberg

Based on the true story of a failed Navy SEALs operation to kill a high-ranking member of the Taliban, Lone Survivor is a rousing tribute to the men who perished in June 2005 while serving their country.

Director Peter Berg is no stranger to explosive action and male posturing, having previously helmed The Kingdom, Hancock and the water-logged 2012 blockbuster Battleship.

He is the perfect fit for this gruelling material, delivering a final 30 minutes that will have audiences wincing in horror as four SEALs fling themselves down the Hindu Kush Mountains near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border during a gunfight with the Taliban.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Broken bones jut through shattered limbs and bullets scythe through flesh as the four-strong team continues to fight to the tragic end, aware that their struggles could be in vain. It’s a heroic and harrowing portrait of bravado in combat and the bonds of brotherhood behind enemy lines.

At Bagram Air Base, Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) and Matt Axelson (Ben Foster) await their assignment.

During downtime, they welcome Shane Patton (Alexander Ludwig) into the ranks via an initiation ceremony, which involves dancing in front of the other men and reciting a Navy SEALs mantra.

“No matter how dark it gets, or how far you fall, you are never out of the fight,” he barks.

Soon after, Lieutenant Commander Erik Kristensen (Eric Bana) gives the order to hunt Ahmad Shah (Yousuf Azami), who is suspected of killing marines in Afghanistan. The reconnaissance is fatally compromised when three shepherds, two of whom are boys, stumble on the SEALs’ hiding place.

The men argue about whether they should shoot the locals or let them go.

“It’s nobody’s business what we do up here,” argues Axelson.

Murphy takes the final decision to let the villagers go and within hours, the SEALs are surrounded by hundreds of gun-toting Taliban.

The title of Berg’s film might give away the ending, but Lone Survivor still jangles the nerves as Luttrell and co refuse to surrender in the face of overwhelming odds.

Wahlberg, Kitsch, Hirsch and Foster rise to the physical challenge with gusto, propelling themselves around hazardous mountain terrain as the enemy swarms.

Berg directs the climactic sequence with aplomb, seemingly turning up the volume of sound effects to accentuate every crack of a cranium on jagged rocks.

While Lone Survivor hits hard in the action set pieces, and leaves us breathless and slightly queasy thanks to brilliant make-up, the film is underpowered when it comes to fleshing out the characters and their back stories.

Berg compensates with bookended footage and photographs of real SEALs, including the men who fell during this Operation Red Wings.

Action/Thriller. Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster, Yousuf Azami, Ali Suliman, Eric Bana, Alexander Ludwig. Director: Peter Berg.