Peter Berg’s last film as director posited the threat of sea aliens attacking a navy ship based on toy, with a pop star as a weapons specialist.
Lone Survivor, mercifully, is not Battleship. Instead, we find the director on significantly more sober ground, with a calculated approach towards authenticity. Berg reportedly embedded himself in a real US Navy SEAL team and lived in Iraq for a month in the run-up to production, as well as having Marcus Luttrell (whose real-life account forms the story) as a close advisor.
Luttrell’s remarkable story of survival is worth telling. Inevitably, the temptation to depict US military as consummate heroes creeps through. Yet it’s a more balanced account than you might expect.
Our introduction to the SEAL team is a by-now-familiar parade of machismo, facial hair, wisecrackin’ about good ol’ gals back home, and the word “hoo-ah”. The main cast (Mark Wahlberg, Emile Hirsch, Taylor Kitsch and Ben Foster) are solid, but virtually indistinguishable.
It’s a slow start. Yet once the disastrous Operation Redwings gets under way – an assassination attempt gone wildly awry – the pace and tension crescendos. As the four-man team comes under heavy fire from an army of Taliban insurgents, Berg pummels the screen with action. Intense, unremitting, taut and brutal, the gunfights paint a grim picture of a grim war.
It’s muscular, gripping, back-to-basics action. Politics takes a back seat. Berg has publicly stated his film is apolitical – and there are those who might wish otherwise. But just when the balance seems skewed, an unexpected ending highlighting the compassion and bravery of ordinary Afghans lends a bit of much-needed perspective.
Admittedly, there’s some mawkish military tributes. An opening credits montage offers real-life training footage; the closing credits feature photos of the real SEALS, complete with a syrupy Peter Gabriel cover of ‘Heroes’.
Both sequences, despite playing well in the States, will sit a little uncomfortably outside of Republican rallies. But the filling of this stars-and-stripes sandwich, the meat of the movie, just about excuses any near-propagandism. Lone Survivor’s impressive battle scenes, feverish pace, and admirable pursuit of realism makes for a hugely well-crafted war film, and one that deserves your time.