Monday, January 13, 2014

Lone Survivor

Lone Survivor is the movie adaptation of a book written by a Navy SEAL named Marcus Luttrell, who in 2005 was part of a mission in Afghanistan that went rather poorly. My usual policy of avoiding spoilers does not really apply to this review. Given the title of the book and movie and the presence of the author's character on the team, the fate of certain other characters should be fairly obvious.

If this movie were not based on a firsthand account of true events, much of what happens would be hard to believe. Some of this is due to the unlikely events that actually occurred. Some of it is due to Navy SEALs being incredibly good at what they do. The rest is due to the filmmakers changing Luttrell's already probably-exaggerated story in order to make a better movie. This is a war movie, not a war documentary.

As a war movie, this is a good one. It establishes the humanity of the principal characters while setting the stage, so that when they are put in harm's way the viewer cares, and roots for them, even knowing how it must end. Then it gets down to the business of putting them in the way of said harm, and does so relentlessly.

The titular Luttrell is played by Mark Wahlberg. The other members of the team are Taylor Kitsch as Mike Murphy, Emile Hirsch as Danny Dietz, and Ben Foster as "Axe." All four of them are excellent. They are believable as soldiers, at least to the eyes of someone who never was one. They and the filmmakers go out of their way to remind us that the characters they play are based on real men, men who had families, hopes, dreams, and fears. They made me care.

The direction and cinematography are much better than one might expect from the director of Battleship. The scenery is spectacular, though it's actually a ski resort in New Mexico, not Afghanistan. There is a lot of shakycam, but for once I don't object. This is not the kind of shakycam that results from filmmakers who are aiming for a found footage look, or who are deliberately shaking the cameras to invoke a sense of chaos - this is the kind that results from cameramen running through the woods along with the actors while aiming Red Epic cameras. It suits the movie, and I did not find it disorienting or nauseating.

Speaking of nauseating, this movie is extremely, graphically violent. That should be obvious, but it's worth mentioning. It's also worth noting that the film draws a clear distinction between the Taliban and the rest of the people of Afghanistan. It also mostly avoids propaganda by focusing on individuals rather than larger issues.

So what we have here is a well-written, well-acted, well-directed movie with engrossing action sequences and plenty of tragedy. In January. That doesn't happen very often.

Performance: 4/5
Plot: 4/5
Production: 4/5
Overall: 4/5
Bechdel: Fail
Reverse-Bechdel: Pass
Mako Mori: Fail
1. Lone Survivor

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