Peter Berg’s LONE SURVIVOR based on a true story, gives us a view of war’s brutality, tactical decision making, heroism and machismo – all very close up and corporeal. The camera places us in the midst of the horror and camaraderie of four Navy SEALS on a mission in Afghanistan to assassinate a Taliban leader, Ahmad Shah, in late June 2005. I sit in a half-empty theater – an ice storm swirling outside on this wintry day, wiping clean the tears flecking my glasses wondering why I am emotionally perforated. I realize I am moved watching such young men attempting to survive an undertaking gone awry, due to equipment and communications break down; life and death determinations (which luckily most of us rarely have to make) involving ethical and tactical judgments affecting not only their lives, but radiating out to communities and families – war is heartbreaking..
We penetrate the requisite male fuck-you banter (there are no woman in this film) glimpsing each of the main character’s lives - family, children, upcoming weddings, etc. yet these young men are steel hard, having been trained to kill for their country. This is a propaganda film for The Navy SEALS and the “brotherhood” of men who are the “elite corps” disciplined to carry out operations quick and clean – no messy questions asked back home stateside – a place which seems very far away psychologically and physically. The camera contrasts the minuteness of man against the larger tapestry of Afghanistan’s breath-taking mountainous landscape - dappled with Taliban warriors whose fierceness and savagery are both alien and a response to the many invasions over the past decades into their homeland,
Mark Wahlberg plays Marcus Lutrell and his well-acted “team” performed by Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster – four individuals who have bonded not only due to their rigorous indoctrination process, but additionally through their exposure to risk and isolation. A good part of LONE SURVIVOR contains an outnumbered fight-to-the–death gun battle; what made those scenes so singular was the tracking choreography – we move from macro to micro – we see an overview of strategy, and then the camera focuses directly into the eyes, deep gashes, and bleeding wounds of the casualties shocking us to the vulnerabilities of the flesh.
We also are made aware of the Afghani’s own code of ethics – the villagers who risked their own lives to fight the Taliban and help an American – the lone survivor. The movie glorified bravery and courage but at the same time revealed the profound attachments that are formed in combat. This is a war movie that does not show sweeping battles but rather a small group of soldiers who won’t stop fighting no matter the conditions and odds. We viscerally perceive humanity’s carnality and its mortality in the fight for survival.