sat 18/05/2024

Lone Survivor | reviews, news & interviews

Lone Survivor

Lone Survivor

Peter Berg's action-drama is a true-life story of Navy SEALs in a tight spot

Mark Wahlberg and Taylor Kitsch pictured just as things get seriously ugly in 'Lone Survivor'

Just what kind of beast is Peter Berg's Lone Survivor? A jingoist justification for the continuing conflict in Afghanistan? A cautionary tale questioning the rules of engagement? War porn? An intense vehicle for its talented stars? Or, in fact, a critique of the American war machine which sends young men out to be slaughtered and provides them with scant support?

Seemingly improbably, Lone Survivor can be viewed in all of these ways and thus looks set to divide audiences, perhaps along national lines, perhaps along political ones. Only one thing is for certain: it's a film that will get people talking.

Nominated for two sound Oscars, based on a true-story and starring Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster (pictured below right) and Emile Hirsch as brothers-in-arms, Lone Survivor certainly has enough clout to get bums on seats. This ominously titled film tells the story of a four-man Navy SEAL reconnaissance mission, part of Operation Red Wings, which aims to neutralise the Taliban commander Ahmad Shah. Their lieutenant is played by Taylor Kitsch (who for those of us that love Berg's TV triumph Friday Night Lights will always be Tim Riggins). He's getting a chance to banish memories of his recent trio of big-screen turkeys - Battleship, John Carter and Savages - one of the most inauspicious high-profile introductions to a movie career in recent memory.

The four SEALs - Marcus (Wahlberg), Michael (Kitsch), Danny (Hirsch) and Matt (Foster) - are a likeable bunch, with a nice line in banter and terrific, matching beards, operating under the leadership of Ground Commander Erik Kristensen (Eric Bana -  who's not in this much). After they're sent in they quickly lose comms - a sure sign of trouble, which quickly follows. Observing Shah's heavily guarded compound the quartet seek cover in the woods of the Sawtalo Sar mountain where they encounter a group of goat-herders. Fearing that one of the men will notify Shah, they have a tough decision to make - a decision that without comms they're forced to make alone - and which sets into motion an epic gun battle with the odds stacked horribly against them.

Although the bone-crunching action is thrillingly, sometimes terrifyingly rendered, one moment positively glories in the self-sacrificial heroics

Berg's last film Battleship was torturously long and stupid with the director unable to elevate the Transformers-at-sea concept. In keeping with the theme of constant contradictions Lone Survivor manages to be occasionally as bombastic as its predecessor and yet considerably more sensitive. In the opening sequences set on the base, Berg shows a deft touch for quickly establishing a brotherly bond and the kinetic camerawork, sensitivity to character and not-quite-but-very-nearly mawkish score (courtesy of Explosions in the Sky, collaborating with Steve Jablonsky) will be familiar to fans of the aforementioned TV show. Although the bone-crunching action is thrillingly, sometimes terrifyingly rendered, one moment in particular positively glories in the self-sacrificial heroics, over-employing slow-mo and rendering a poignant moment utterly ridiculous.

Reading up on the actual events surrounding 2005's Operation Red Wings, the core of this pretty remarkable tale appears to be factually accurate with just the final battle sequence inserted for dramatic effect. Lone Survivor is clearly no Zero Dark Thirty (a much more cerebral, precision executed war film) and given its seesawing style and confused message Berg has some way to go before he troubles Kathryn Bigelow, the unrivalled master of modern cinematic warfare. However the actors are great, credibly imperilled and they make sure things stay engaging and, more often than not, gripping. Particular kudos must go to Wahlberg whose Marcus is put through quite the ordeal but who finds his faith in humanity rewarded by an extraordinary act of compassion from a seemingly unlikely source. Lone Survivor is far from an instant combat classic but it's made with some skill and performed with a lot of heart.

Overleaf: watch the trailer for Lone Survivor


Berg has some way to go before he troubles Kathryn Bigelow, the unrivalled master of modern cinematic warfare


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters