Lone Survivor is an evident passion project for director Peter Berg. It’s a meticulously crafted, excessive war film that doesn’t send a particularly direct message about the state of war, but understands its characters and their backstories enough to imbue an emotional heft to the story. It centers on members of the Armed Forces played by Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emilie Hirsch, and Ben Foster, who are tasked with taking out a lead member of the Taliban who’s responsible for numerous American deaths. They encounter Afghans in the forests while preparing for the mission and must decide on whether to kill them or let them go: Luttrell (Wahlberg) says that they can’t kill kids and lets them go, which leads one of the teenagers to inform the Taliban of the situation. They’re bombarded, and their struggle to survive begins.
This leads to the entire middle section of the film, which on a second viewing remains surprisingly tense and impactful. Yet it continues to grow in excess and wallows in the violence that overcomes these soldiers. It’s difficult to watch not necessarily because of its graphic images, but its nature. Berg doesn’t dive deep enough into these characters for their life-and-death situations to truly affect me emotionally. Luttrell has a transformation near the film’s conclusion that helps emphasize Wahlberg’s talents as an actor; the fact that he can pull off this kind of dramatic act alongside his comedy works is beyond impressive. He’s emerging as one of the most dynamic actors in Hollywood. And while the film becomes a bit too heavy-handed near its conclusion, I have to admire the effort put forth to make a brutal, harrowing war film; while it doesn’t line up with modern greats like Saving Private Ryan and The Hurt Locker, it’s a noble effort.
Grade: ★★★½ (out of 5)