The war film genre is one that has been altered and complicated in modern cinema by the aftermath of 9/11. With the political climate intensified, sensitivity and unbiased attitude is essential to the effectiveness of modern war films. Lone Survivor is a film that attempts to take the pure intense war action picture of the past (particularly the 1980s) and bring it into the modern context.

Following the true story of Marcus Lutrell and his team, whose surveillance mission deep in enemy territory goes tragically wrong and leads to a fight for their lives which reveals the power of heroism and sacrifice in the middle of war. The result is a technically adept and extremely physical depiction of Modern Warfare; however it is one that ultimately suffers due to an intense and misguided political agenda and a style that is too heavily engrossed in the sensationalism of Generation Call of Duty, at the detriment of the narrative and structure of the film.

From a performance standpoint, the film is a mixed bag. The standouts are unquestionably Ben Foster and Taylor Kitsch; both actors are compelling and believable in their emotionally vulnerable realizations of macho soldiers brought face to face with the ultimate cost of war. Unfortunately, the quality of Foster and Kitsch outshines that of Mark Wahlberg in the lead role of Marcus Lutrell. He is too stiff and unbelievable; where the other performer’s personality and dialogue is delivered with a sense of naturalism and conviction…Lutrell is played too straight, without joy, emphasized in every line delivery that just feels incredibly forced and played for the message, rather than the truth of the man.

Peter Berg’s direction is technically assured, capturing the crucial balance between the vast scope of war and the brutal reality at its core. However, Berg provides his detractors with an abundance of ammunition against him, for his perceived (well, certainly a lot more concrete after Lone Survivor) ‘military porn’ style that treats weapons of war as fetish objects and idealizes the U.S. Army/Navy without any true political bias. Particularly chilling is the reminiscent nature of the firefight that dominates the film, to Quentin Tarantino’s film within a film, Nation’s Pride, a parody of Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi Propaganda whose precise, visually driven nature and mythologizing of the Nazi soldier is still a source of debate in cinematic culture. Berg’s own precise, visually affective style combined with a depiction of the American Soldiers whose self-sacrifice and resolve is depicted almost saintly (in contrast to a one-dimensional view of the Taliban soldiers, more suited to Team America than a serious war piece) leaves an eerie effect, one that certainly damages the film.

While the film is unquestionably far too propaganda driven and sentimental, it is an unbelievable story that deserves to be told and presented to the wider world. But the fact this film, about an act of incredible bravery and humanity in the face of the aggression of war, is manipulated into a piece of generic ‘war porn’ leaves a bad taste in the mouth, one that undermines the complete piece.

The physicality of the film is outstanding. Visually, Berg captures the textures of the environment with intense verisimilitude, and in particular, the physical sense of damage and disorientation caused by warfare, utilizing both exceptional physical effects and nerve shredding sound design to affect the audience with the same sensations of disorientating chaos that these soldiers are thrust into directly into. The physical make up effects are stunning in their detail; Seeing these soldier’s bodies increasingly shred by bullets, shrapnel and the brutal damage of the mountain terrain itself is crucial to the verisimilitude and truth of the film. In particular, you can’t help but feel that Ben Foster is empowered by the reality of his wounds, as he channels the pain and expresses it with awe-inspiring grit. If anything comes out of this film, it should undoubtedly be affective power of real physical effects over CGI.

Ultimately, Lone Survivor feels imbalanced and, most damaging of all, deceptive (particularly when compared to Kathryn Bigelow’s superior Zero Dark Thirty, it appears extremely sluggish and politically unrefined) for it’s fixation on the idea of American honor over a realistic picture that balanced both sides fairly. Lone Survivor manages to capture the shock and awe with a rare gusto; but a deeply propaganda-driven narrative and the lack of a compelling lead, deflects the killer blow necessary and leaves the film as messy and flawed as the operation the film is based on.

VERDICT: [rating=2]

About The Author

Matthew Hammond is a full time cinephile, specializing in cult, art house and 1980’s cinema. While film is his overwhelming passion, Matthew has been known to enjoy comic books, Sherlock Holmes stories and a good film related T-shirt. Feel free to email me with any questions or comments: mattpaul61@o2.co.uk