‘Lone Survivor’ effective, but flawed

By Frank Ruggiero (frank@mountaintimes.com)

Article Published: Jan. 23, 2014 | Modified: Jan. 23, 2014
‘Lone Survivor’ effective, but flawed

From left, Taylor Kitsch and Mark Wahlberg star in ‘Lone Survivor.’

To call “Lone Survivor” harrowing is a gross understatement.

Well-executed action, convincing performances and expert sound editing practically embed viewers with a group of men who epitomize bravery in even the most dire of straits.

And although the screenplay from writer and director Peter Berg (“Battleship”) is far from perfect, it can’t undermine the sacrifices made by the characters on which it’s based. The heroes aren’t stars Mark Wahlberg or Taylor Kitsch, but rather a band of extraordinary men who are the very definition of “heroic.”

And although the title suggests a major spoiler, “Lone Survivor” is more about the journey than the destination. Reaching said journey, however, is where the film suffers.

In establishing our protagonists, Berg employs the most rudimentary of character-building devices. Based on the book of the same name by former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, Berg’s screenplay attempts to reflect the words on page but doesn’t bother reading between them, instead painting two-dimensional portraits of its characters.

As such, the themes Berg establishes practically fizzle out after 30 minutes, but being that they include a heaping helping of jingoism and weren’t very good to begin with, that’s not entirely a bad thing.

Were this a work of fiction, Berg’s shoddy attempts at character development would fall flat. But since “Lone Survivor” is based on a true story, with its heroes already well defined, viewers can look past these shortcomings.

And well they should, since “Lone Survivor” does demonstrate some solid storytelling.

The story follows a group of Navy SEALs — Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch, “John Carter”), Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg, “Ted”), Matt Axelson (Ben Foster, 2007’s “3:10 to Yuma”) and Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch, “Into the Wild”) — in 2005 Afghanistan, in the midst of Operation Red Wings.

Tasked with eliminating a high-profile Taliban target, Murphy and company are dropped in the field, using Afghanistan’s unforgiving terrain as their cover. When they encounter a goatherd and his family, however, they realize their mission could be compromised.

As Murphy sees it, they have several options: execute the family, restrain and practically leave them for dead, or release them and call for extraction. They opt for the latter, and no sooner is the family released than its oldest son makes a run for town, informing the Taliban occupants about the operation.

But with the densely forested mountains blocking radio reception, the team is unable to contact command. Their only option is to seek higher ground in hopes of reestablishing radio contact. This is much easier said than done, as Taliban forces begin to close in on them, sparking one of the most intense firefights in recent cinema.

At this point, “Lone Survivor” has hit its stride. The ensuing action is tightly shot, gripping and visceral, underlining the unflinching bravery of our real-life protagonists. Outstanding stunts and special effects bring a sense of brutal authenticity to the proceedings, which might prove difficult to watch for the more squeamish viewers.

As a filmmaker, Berg seems more comfortable with action than words. With “Lone Survivor,” the balance is more in his — and the audience’s — favor.

“Lone Survivor,” rated R for strong bloody war violence and pervasive language, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone. For show times, visit http://www.mountaintimes.com/movies.

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