Film Review: Lone Survivor

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Plot: Based on a true story in 2005 when four Navy SEALs set out to capture or eliminate integral Taliban leaders, but were discovered. Outnumbered, they battle to survive as they attempt to contact a nearby US Military base for rescue.

In 2004, Peter Berg directed Friday Night Lights, which is probably in my top thirty all time favorite movies. Since then, it’s been a plethora of boring, mediocre, uneven, and at times even ridiculed films (Battleship anyone?). With Lone Survivor, Berg shows he still has talent. The movie certainly has its problems, and definitely could have used another draft at the script stage, but Berg delivers where it counts. If you can get through the first thirty minutes, this is a pretty damn good movie. It’s harsh, gritty, brutal, and above all else, an insanely intense realistic Rambo style type motion picture.

As mentioned before though, the first act is kind of rough. As I watched this unfold, I kept saying to myself, “Oh boy, it’s another forgettable Peter Berg movie. I wish I was at home watching Friday Night Lights. It’s just painfully generic and cliché. Do you think we’ll get a scene where one of the soldiers IM’s with his wife? Yup. Oh, let’s not forget the part where one of the rookie SEALS is getting hazed, and has to dance in front of everybody to a pop song. It’s there. But worst of all, the characters feel interchangeable. When your four main actors are Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch, and Taylor Kitsch, it’s important to give them distinct personalities. As the film starts ramping up though, we start getting some solid banter and camaraderie, as the characters actually start becoming individuals.

Mark Wahlberg plays Marcus Luttrell, the main soldier we follow throughout the movie. Wahlberg is a hit-or-miss actor, and in the first half he’s the typical “going through the motions” Mark Wahlberg. But as the film goes on, he turns into The Departed Mark Wahlberg, and actually gives one hell of a performance, especially in the third act. He’s funny and extremely likable, and by the end, very intense.

Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch, and Taylor Kitsch have all been easy targets the last few years. They’ve just been the epitome of the “whatever” performance. While they aren’t amazing here, they all do solid jobs, and show that if given good material, they can deliver. Kitsch especially has some nice moments.

Aside from the characters and acting, what really shines is the action. One of the most endearing qualities about this film is the way Berg builds up the tension. I love how Walhlberg’s character basically announces when the fighting is about to start. While not in the same galaxy as a Saving Private Ryan, this film probably has the best war sequences I’ve seen in a long time, including tense shootouts, gripping sniper shots, and cut throat hand-to-hand combat — it’s all there. Since most of the action takes place on a hill, Berg does a terrific job of showing how brutal and painful that can be, as characters are seen barreling down slopes, and crashing into tree branches several times. My only complaint with the action is the shaky cam. There isn’t a lot of it, but it’s just annoying when it does pop up. I’ve said it in 900 different reviews, but if I could pick one aspect of filmmaking to go away, no more shaky cam would be at the top of the list. Words can’t express anymore how much I loathe it.

The score was composed by Explosions in the Sky, who also did Friday Night Lights, one of my all-time favorite movie scores. While still a solid score, this element was sort of disappointing for me.

I wish I could call this a great film, but the first thirty minutes are just plain bad. The last act also drags significantly. But the middle hour is one hell of a ride. If you really love war movies, or films where the characters have to claw and fight to survive, I would check this out. There’s plenty of powerful and gripping moments to go around, and because it’s based on a true story, the last few images will certainly leave an impact on you. Also, just as a side note, Jerry Ferrara makes a cameo. Who’s Jerry Ferrara you might ask? Turtle from Entourage. He’s nice and clean shaven here, but I’m sorry…I’m just always going to see Turtle with this guy. He can’t escape it. Sorry, Jerry.

Rating: 7 out of 10 (Good)

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.

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