There’s no sugar-coating or sanitization of the conflict in Afghanistan to be found in Peter Berg’s “Lone Survivor.” His adaptation of Marcus Luttrell’s memoir of pulls no punches in its visceral portrayal of the unlikely triumph of one man over relentless enemies and harsh earth.
Despite the film’s ultimate resolution being implied in the title, the action is always gripping and engrossing. Berg’s riveting handheld camerawork ensures that we’re buckled in to feel every moment leading up to the climax. Every fall down a cliff, every bullet entry wound piercing flesh, and every last dying breath lands deeply in the gut with tremendous force. When coupled with masterfully precise sound mixing and editing, “Lone Survivor” has the impact of a film like “127 Hours.”
It’s not all about the action, however. Perhaps the biggest testament the effectiveness of Berg’s multifaceted approach to “Lone Survivor” is that the film’s most nail-biting scene comes not in combat but in a moral debate. As Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg) and his SEAL recon team (Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster) weight the respective merits of killing three of their prisoners to save their own hide or letting them go and risking their own lives, a quintessential problem for America in contemporary geopolitics becomes an immediately necessary quandary to mull over.
Berg also manages to skirt around the normal political spectrum on which most war films seem to reside. “Lone Survivor” is not apologizing for American strength, but the film is also not so blinded by jingoism that it’s just a mindless exercise in flag-waving. While the first killing of an Afghani is slightly morally problematic in its dehumanizing trigger-happiness reminiscent of a video game, the rest of the film is remarkably fair to the enemy. Berg even goes to great lengths to show their heart and soul as rooted in their tribal traditions, not American stereotyping.
On the whole, the movie wisely keeps its focus on the ground in Afghanistan, not on the politicians in Washington, and as such is a definitive chronicle of the realities facing soldiers in the War on Terror. “Lone Survivor” deserves to stand next to “The Hurt Locker” as an equal in providing an authoritative depiction of America’s military engagements in the 2000s. Both films know how to get the adrenaline pumping and never let off the throttle. A- /