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"Lone Survivor" shines

Movie Review

By Steven Beynon
On January 21, 2014

Director Peter Berg's adaptation of the infamous 2005 battle in Afghanistan has a genuine feeling of authenticity and care. It's more grueling than entertaining. "Lone Survivor" is a true story, and not a "feel good" kind of film; it's an intentionally stressful take on a real-life event.

This isn't a pleasant movie to watch, but rather an important display of the horrifying and adrenaline-filled environment of combat. I mean those criticisms in the best way possible. All of those elements combine to form an experience with real emotional resonance.

Based on the memoirs written by Navy SEAL medic Marcus Luttrell, the protagonist, Berg's film intelligently zeroes-in on the battle itself and the four American men who fought. Berg drops the audience into a brutal and unforgiving battle that took the lives of 19 servicemen, making it the most devastating day for Navy SEALs since WWII.

 It communicates a visceral, worst-case scenario situation like "Black Hawk Down," (2001) but is a little less loud and bombastic.

Their mission was to scale a mountain in Afghanistan's deadly Kunar province on a reconnaissance mission to identify insurgent leader Ahmad Shah. The mission goes awry when goat herders discover the SEAL team. Despite having suspicions, these herders are Taliban supporters; the SEALs are then faced with a difficult decision whether or not to kill the unarmed "civilians".

Following their moral compass, the SEALs let the herders go and hopes karma will be kind to their mission. Immediately these Afghans report to a Taliban group about the Americans' location. The SEALs are virtually surrounded immediately.

Even for folks that aren't familiar with the real events the film depicts, it's very obvious where the movie goes by title and trailer alone. The major plot points of Lone Survivor aren't a secret. However, Berg expertly maintains a high-level stress environment. The story arc knows that viewers are likely aware of Marcus Luttrell's life, so it tells the story from the angle of the stress and agony the SEALs went through that day. This story is more about the journey than the destination.

A couple of times throughout the movie, the SEAL has no other choice than to jump down a mountain to avoid being killed or captured by Taliban. In various real-life interviews, Marcus Luttrell explained that every time their body made contact with the ground, another few bones broke and most direct encounters with the enemy left a few more bullet holes in their bodies.

Every broken bone, every gunshot is gratuitously depicted for maximum impact.Despite that, there's very little gore. The visuals and sound design mold together in creative ways to make viewers aware of the wounds these men are receiving without being gross or exploitative.

Several actors were even injured during filming, as the stunt coordinator didn't use dummies or wires for the falling sequences. Kevin Scott, who used this method to depict realism, tasked his stuntmen with falling at times up to 15-20ft. To properly mimic how the SEALs fell, Scott wanted gravity to take over and told his stuntmen, "Wherever you fall, just go with it."

It's that kind of attention to detail that makes "Lone Survivor" shine. While I was not a part of Operation Red Wings, I have been to the region in Afghanistan where the movie is supposed to be set. The environment is about as accurate you can get. The makeshift bases seen in the earlier scenes in the film are convincing, even to me, someone who has physically been in most of the real-world counterparts. The attention to detail in even the brand of gloves the servicemen are wearing is spot on.

Everything blends together to make this movie as close as you can get without watching actual overseas combat footage.

"Lone Survivor" doesn't take much time to expand on its characters. Instead it communicates a real battle and the inevitable bond lead character Marcus Luttrell forms with his rescuer, an Afghan man. It's the kind of story that on its own would seem too Rambo if it were fiction, but knowing that the film closely follows the accounts of Luttrell and military reports separates this movie from "Call of Duty," and cements itself as a genuine movie that can stand proud next to other great war-story interpretations like "Band of Brothers" (2001).

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