Well, thanks for the spoiler.
Let me start with the obvious. If you ever make a movie that is based off of a true story, you should never, ever, EVER give away a spoiler of your movie with hearing the title alone. I don’t care if the name is pulled from the memoir of the same name. If the memoir is a perfect piece of literature reminiscent of Mark Twain and Charles Dickens, its only flaw is that stupid title. Why? The entire marketing campaign focuses around these four friends as U.S. Navy SEALs, desperate to escape from a harsh battle situation in the middle east alive. What was the movie title again? Lone Survivor, you say? Well, at least I know how it ends!
Lone Survivor is based off of the badly-titled memoir of the same name by Marcus Lutrell, portrayed here by Mark Wahlberg. Lutrell is a Navy SEAL who braves into the field of battle for the love of his country (what else?). Three of his friends also enlist alongside Lutrell, and as time passes, they soon become more like his brothers. There’s Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), a commanding officer who is engaged to his fiance stateside, there’s Danny (Emile Hirsch), a comm tech specialist who can’t beat Murphy at a single race, and there’s Axe (Ben Foster), a trained sniper whose only concern is protecting his fellow man.
The four of these men are assigned to a dangerous mission in Iraq to track and assassinate Ahmad Shah (Yusef Azami), a terrorist who resides in the Hindu-Kush region of Iraq. Lutrell, along with Murphy, Danny and Axe are assigned as a four-man squad to track Ahmad, find him, kill him, and vacate the area as soon as possible.
Their mission is a success, right? Look at the title again, then answer my question.
The biggest problem with Lone Survivor is that its as predictable as the sunrise. I already mentioned how the title gave away the movie’s biggest spoiler possible. How else does it goof up? Well, how about how it carries out their deaths? The minute I see that someone’s hand gets shot clean through his palm and watch him react violently to his transgressors, the first thought that popped in my mind was “He’s the first one to go.” I wasn’t wrong.
From there, it just descends into a predictable farce of blood, guts and easily foreseeable deaths. One soldier makes the ultimate sacrifice of going out to a cliff ledge to clearly signal for help. Bang bang bang. The help comes in a giant-sized vehicle. Oh, is that a rocket launcher? Boom. Another guy gets pinned against a tree. Can someone say “headshot”?
The more they dragged out the death scenes, the more frustrated I became. I know what’s coming up, so why should I care when you made it so blatantly obvious that’s someone’s big moment has come? There is absolutely no suspense, no element of surprise to make us care for these character’s sacrifices. You might as well have a caption come up that says “Hey! I’m next in line!”
It’s even worse when you look at the cast that we have here. Look at the names involved with this movie: Mark Wahlberg. Taylor Kitsch. Ben Foster. Emile Hirsch. Eric Bana. All great actors who have been in a wide assortment of projects, ranging from Into The Wild, Black Hawk Down, 3:10 To Yuma, Munich, The Fighter, and The Departed. In each of those movies, we’ve gotten a sense of these actor’s performance capabilities and how deeply they can immerse themselves into each role. How deep are they immersed into their roles here? About as far as the barrel of a gun, that’s what.
Honestly, I might have been more impressed with Mark Wahlberg’s performance if it consisted of anything more than constant screaming and slurred F-words. Another problem I have here: who the heck is Marcus Lutrell? He has no personality. He has no character. He’s a ragdoll thrown through the movie’s special effects and explosions while everyone else around him gets shot and killed. In the movie, we get a sense of who all of the supporting characters are, what makes them unique, and why we should care for them. You might ask why those personal details matter, but their human nature is exactly why we care in the first place. How else were survival movies such as Cast Away and 127 Hours so successful? In his book, we are given a first-person perspective of Lutrell, who he is, his childhood, his training, and what it was like to be in his heated battle situation in Iraq. Here, we get a generic montage that could have been shown in a Navy Seal PSA and 50 minutes worth of loud gunfire and rolling down rocks.
Look, I have no idea what its like to be in the army. I never will. I imagine the real-life situation between Lutrell and the Taliban must have been horrifying, and that the events that transpired deeply disturbed and impacted Lutrell’s personal life. I have an immense amount of gratitude and respect for him and his brother’s sacrifices, as anyone should when they are told of his tragic story.
If anything, that’s part of the reason why I’m so infuriated by this action farce of a movie. Look at other notable war movies that have been already been released. Saving Private Ryan. Apocalypse Now. Black Hawk Down. Blood Diamond. Born On The Fourth Of July. Compare these movies side by side and tell me what does Lone Survivor have that those movies don’t already have? What does it accomplish that can’t already been seen? Answer: nothing. All of those movies compel us to care about those characters not as soldiers, but as people, all with their own emotions and complexions that stem much further than that of a gun barrel or a army knife. The nobility behind such movies is gone within Lone Survivor, as it is more interested in showing large explosions and gruesome kills than it is illustrating the uncertainties of the situation and the reality that these men faced when they realized that they weren’t going home.
If the genre of war movies is an American flag planted firmly over the battlefield, Lone Survivor is the dust and ash that blows aside easily in the wind.