Lone Survivor

Lone Survivor is currently in theaters and nominated for two Academy Awards

Lone Survivor


Lone Survivor (2013) – Rated R

Marcus Luttrell and his team set out on a mission to capture or kill notorious al Qaeda leader Ahmad Shahd, in late June 2005. Marcus and his team are left to fight for their lives in one of the most valiant efforts of modern warfare.

I had read a few reviews ripping Lone Survivor to shreds and, while they weren’t wrong, they don’t tell the whole story. Lone Survivor is a middling effort, taking an exciting real-life story, dumbing it down, and serving it with a plate of jingoism.

First, even though this is based on Marcus Luttrell’s autobiography, this actually comes across as the same movie as Bravo Two Zero (1999), starring Sean Bean. Bravo Two Zero is the true story of a Special Forces team (SAS instead of Navy Seals) trapped behind enemy lines (Iraq instead of Afghanistan). In both stories, the teams are exposed after they capture and release a shepherd who stumbles across them.

Lone Survivor is nominated for two Oscars this year. It is nominated for Best Achievement in Sound Editing and Sound Mixing. The sounds, particularly the gunfire, were quite excellent but I have to admit that I was blown away by the sound in Gravity, which is also nominated for those two awards. While not nominated, the makeup effects in Lone Survivor are quite remarkable and, of course, gruesome.

The story of Lone Survivor is great but Peter Berg’s direction is rather pedestrian, sucking some of the life out of the story. He also, perhaps due to budgetary limitations, has a lot of shaky cam in the action sequences. The thing is, there is a how-to manual on how to film a modern combat movie. That playbook is called Black Hawk Down. Heck, even the low-budget Act of Valor was more authentic (not surprising I guess since the actors were actual SEALs).

Also strangely, in spite of having a fantastic story to tell, Berg alters quite a few of the details. Obviously, the big firefight was quite condensed to fit in the movie. Luttrell never stabbed any of his attackers. The team did not seriously argue whether or not to kill the shepherds. Luttrell didn’t just injure his leg, he was paralyzed and had to crawl.

Obviously, Peter Berg does have a lot of love for the SEALs. The opening scenes are a montage of actual SEAL training, some of it quite shocking. After the movie finishes, several minutes are devoted to photos of the actual participating U.S. soldiers.