Based on a true story, Lone Survivor follows the fate of four US Marines sent to capture or kill a notorious Taliban leader near a small Afghani village. The team find themselves fighting for their lives in a desperate effort to survive.
Taylor Kitsch, Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster and Emile Hirsch play the four Marines at the centre of the story. As he grows older, Hirsch looks more and more like a skinny Jack Black, which is a little jarring for this movie. Kitsch has found a role that suits him – shout Marine – and seems to have realised that this is his niche and he should stick to it. Mark Wahlberg is given the most to do in terms of character development and emotion, and Ben Foster is given a thin back-story in terms of a wife back home. In fact, all of the men are given a one liner of back-story enough, it is hoped, to make us root for them, but not enough for them to be fully rounded out characters. To make up for this, or perhaps in spite of it, we are given enough background to know that this unit of Marines are close knit and would do anything for one another.
The story is based on a true one, but with the film clocking in at 121 minutes, most of the running time is spent in a fire fight in the Afghani hills. This is tensely and harrowingly realised, with some cruel camera angles adding to the savagery inflicted on both sides. Director and screenwriter Peter Berg keeps a strong feeling of camaraderie going throughout, but while this is not a political film – as such – it is a film that political arguments will be thrust upon. The story ends up becoming one of flag waving for the USA and one of the most interesting aspects of the tale – an Afghani man who helps an injured Marine – is pretty much ignored for the sake of another shootout.
A fellow reviewer remarked, on the way out of the film, that Lone Survivor would have been a much more interesting film if it were a documentary, and it is hard to argue with such a truth. Dramatising the story created a flag waving collection of characters and a film that feels as though it is asking the audience to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. A documentary, however, would have given Lone Survivor a chance to be anything other than a well shot fire fight with some cheesy emotion thrown in for good measure. There are plenty of great war films – Platoon and Apocalypse Now spring to mind – and Lone Survivor may be an inspiring story, but it is just not a very good film, and is certainly not a good war film.
Lone Survivor feels like a combination of video game and war film. The characters are never developed past the superficial, leaving us wondering why we should care about these men who set out to kill in a foreign land. There is little doubt that at the heart of Lone Survivor there is a story of strength, fraternity and courage but it is lost in an admittedly beautifully shot fire fight, of which we already know the outcome. Hint; the clue is in the title.