Lone Survivor is a true story that starts with real footage, ends with genuine photos of the real life participants and in the middle has one of the most realistic, brutal and harrowing shoot outs in cinema history. Like Saving Private Ryan’s D-Day opening or Black Hawk Down’s visceral carnage filled last hour, Lone Survivor puts you right in the firing line and rarely lets up.
The title and the opening scene might be spoilers but both give the film and unbearable tension as we watch four soldiers fight for their lives on a mountain in Afghanistan. Mark Wahlberg plays the titular lone survivor Marcus Luttrell who along with his three buddies and fellow Navy SEALS sets out to capture or kill Taliban commander Ahmad Shah in the ill-fated Operation Redwing. When Marcus, Mike (Taylor Kitsch), Dietz (Emile Hirsch) and Matt (Ben Foster) stumble across some goat herders in the mountains, they are left with the tricky decision; to let them go and face the possibility of them telling the Taliban their whereabouts or to kill them and complete the mission.
If you can forget the politics for a second, Lone Survivor is blistering, thrilling, gut-wrenching stuff. Forget whether you think the Americans should have been messing around in Afghanistan in the first place. Forget the fact the Americans are given back stories with sweethearts back at home whereas the Afghans are virtually all nameless, faceless, beheading psychopaths. Director Peter Berg intercuts the ‘rules of engagement’ with the beheading of an Afghan who is accused of helping the Americans, eagerly pointing out the difference between the two sides in this war. He also savours the sight of American military might gliding gloriously over the barren Afghan mountains. The weaponry, the helicopters, the training montage from the start of the film, the gear they carry; it’s almost impossible to envisage the Americans becoming the underdog at any point in this story.
But underdogs they become. After debating the ethics of killing or cutting loose their Afghan captives, the shit really hits the fan and at a very high speed making a real bloody mess. The fact the soldiers have to argue over what to do with the goat herders shows some of their complete lack of respect for Afghan life. Luckily their consciences (or the fear of getting caught and ending up on CNN) get the better of them and they release the Afghans. Of course with the threat of beheading hanging over their heads (and possibly a bit of understandable hatred for the Americans), one immediately runs and tells the Taliban and all hell breaks loose.
The fire fight that ensues is absolutely brutal. Though their superior weapons with fancy scopes may help, they are hampered by poor communication and inferior numbers. The Taliban are everywhere and they know the mountains. They are fearless and ruthless. Bullets fly and injuries are sustained quickly. These superheroes are outnumbered and outflanked and can survive bone shattering falls and bullet holes for only so long. Even if you have little sympathy for Americans invading Afghanistan, it is still horrific and heart breaking to see what they go through. To top it all off, the end of the story shows the bravery, selflessness and incredible spirit of some ordinary Afghan villagers who help Marcus when he is the lone survivor.
It is an incredible true story; powerfully acted and viscerally directed. I only hope that people will realise who the real heroes of the story are.
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