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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Lone Survivor 2013 * * * 1/2 Stars

Lone SurvivorDirector: Peter Berg
Year: 2013
Rated R
Rating: * * * 1/2 Stars    Cole's Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Emile Hirsch, Taylor Kitsch

"War is Hell" and director Peter Berg wants to hammer that notion home. I've never been a huge fan of his previous work (I didn't go for the sickening vibe in Very Bad Things nor did I dig the silly plot twist in Hancock), but he comes into his own this time with the nominally accurate, horrifically violent Lone Survivor. In order to compromise his vision, Berg shot "Survivor" with searing, grunge guitar riffs as background music. He also supposedly consulted one of the soldiers who actually fought in the battle scenes this movie depicts (Marcus Luttrell who's book is the basis for the occurring events, makes a small cameo in the second or third scene, and who's character is portrayed by star Mark Wahlberg).

As a limited Christmas Day release that follows four brave souls into the hardening backdrop of Afghanistan's mountainous forests and boulders, "Survivor" projects relenting, brutal battle sequences that aren't technically brilliant (like something made by say Steven Spielberg or Terrence Malick) but get the job done. Like I mentioned earlier, watching this thing gave me the feeling that this is as accurate a true story as one director could ever piece together (if you've seen the behind the scenes trailer, you'll know what I mean). The soldiers who all get shot four or five times each (I'm not kidding), are a bunch of tough tough hombres. After all, they were United States Navy SEALs and what you see them go through at the beginning of the proceedings, will make you believe that they can take anything.

Based on true events that translate into this year's Black Hawk Down (basically what's on screen is one long, arduous battle sequence) and featuring a solid amount of storytelling sans the final act, "Survivor" focuses on four foot soldiers who during the War in Afghanistan, become part of a failed mission entitled Operation Red Wings. The four actors who all seem well casted, are played by Ben Foster (Matthew "Axe" Axelson), Emile Hirsch (Danny Dietz), Mark Wahlberg (Marcus Luttrell), and Taylor Kitsch (Michael "Murph" Murphy). While on their mission, they run into an old man, a young child, and a teenager (goat herders and possible Taliban sympathisers). Instead of killing them or tying them up, they feed them back into the population where they tell their own people. This ignites a full-on attack (basically it's four guys against what seems to be like a hundred enemies) and the film then becomes faithful yet squeamishly savage (enough blood and guts for three such war vehicles). Overall, the two hour running time with a quick introduction of all of its characters, tunefully glides by. Berg directs with a slick proficiency and a no-nonsense approach. If anything, this is his most mature work behind the camera. He's back in my good graces after seeing the stale fruits of his labor with his tainted, previous directorial outings.

In essence, I've always preferred combat films that are set in different time periods like WWII and Vietnam. Lone Survivor however, makes me believe in the enjoyment of taking in and accepting, the modern day war epic. It's not cerebral or poetic like say, The Thin Red Line. And it's not quite Academy friendly like Zero Dark Thirty. It is however, a solid stepping stone in the career of one Peter Berg. His "Survivor" is solid despite being too accurate for its own good. The storytelling fumbles a bit when it wants you to focus on two different plot lines. Is this thing about a failed mission where people lose their lives, or is it about non-Taliban supporters taking a soldier into their care by providing that person with food and shelter? After you view Lone Survivor, it is you the viewer, who has to decide. Either way, I give this shattering, bullet-ridden parka a very high recommendation. It's your "survival" guide to careful, alert, and triumphantly watchful film making.

Written by Jesse Burleson

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