‘Tis the season for red, white and blue patriotism, which finds perfect cinematic expression in the pro-American military thriller Lone Survivor, which recently debuted on Blu-ray. Based on The New York Times bestselling book “Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of Seal Team 10,” Lone Survivor doesn’t stop to ask any big questions about what we’re doing in the Middle East, let alone offer any Kubrick-ian treatise on the nature of war. Instead, it simply dramatizes with harrowing effectiveness the true story of four heroic Navy SEALs who fought against the Taliban to the bitter end out of unmitigated love of country and their fellow American soldiers.
Hit the jump for my complete Lone Survivor Blu-ray review.
Academy Award nominee Mark Wahlberg (2006 Best Supporting Actor, The Departed) stars in the film as real-life hero and “Lone Survivor” author Marcus Luttrell, a SEAL sniper who, along with three other SEALs, is sent on counter-insurgent mission Operation Red Wings with the goal of capturing Taliban leader Ahmad Shah. The remaining SEAL unit members are team leader Michael P. “Murph” Murphy (played by Taylor Kitsch, bouncing back nicely from Battleship…and John Carter); sniper Matthew “Axe” Axelson (played by the always interesting Ben Foster); and communications specialist Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch, suffering almost as nobly here as he did in Into the Wild). While not a particularly diverse group of actors – facially or racially – each presents a believable macho swagger and military prowess on screen.
Things get complicated for the Red Wing gang when they unexpectedly run into three mountain herders on the Afghan hilltop (New Mexico’s wooded mountains double convincingly for that presumably difficult-to-film location). Torn over whether they should kill the herders or let them go, the characters face off in the film’s rare scene of verbal battle. Ultimately, they let the herders go, a decision that seems both morally correct and strategically questionable, as one of the freed herders quickly descends the mountain to alert the local militia of the American presence. Ambush soon follows. Surrounded and outnumbered by Taliban riflemen, the Red Wingers are initially able to hold their ground. At the film’s mid-point, however, an explosion launches them over the mountain edge and it’s all downhill from there, both literally and figuratively.
The hillside battle that follows is far and away the film’s most riveting sequence and a real masterpiece of action filmmaking. Berg creates an incredibly intense, you-are-there immediacy through handheld camera movement and precision sound editing. It’s worth noting that the film received two very well deserved Academy Award® nominations for sound editing and sound mixing. What makes the film’s sound design so effective, however, isn’t just the noise of whizzing bullets and discharging firearms but the moments of eerie silence. In one particularly haunting moment, the sound drops out to illustrate hearing loss caused by exploding ammunition.
So, what ultimately befalls the Red Wing gang? The film’s title certainly doesn’t suggest a great outcome. Still, this predetermined ending never takes away from the film’s superlative suspense. In fact, it only adds to the pathos of watching heroic men fight nobly to the bitter, bloody end. What they’re fighting for may not make much sense – it’s mentioned that Operation Red Wing was set up as a kind of revenge mission for the killing of other Marines, which suggests a Middle East conflict perpetuated by localized vendettas rather than a clear, overall objective – but it’s impossible to feel anything but great respect and honor for the fallen heroes of Operation Red Wings. It’s also impossible to feel anything but great respect for this strongly executed action war thriller, which marks a major career high mark for writer/director Peter Berg.
The film’s extras include the making-of featurettes “Will of the Warrior,” “Recreating the Firefight,” “Learning the Basics,” “The Pashtun Code of Life,” “Bringing the Story to Light,” and “The Fallen Heroes of Operation Red Wings.”
Collectively, these featurettes show the great lengths Berg went to in order to bring great authenticity to his cinematic recreation of Operation Red Wing. A key component of this – as revealed in the longest of the mini-docs, the 28-minute “Will of the Warrior” – was the involvement of Luttrell. Initially wary of Hollywood screwing up his story or worse, dishonoring his fellow soldiers’ memory, Luttrell found a filmmaker to trust in Berg and ended up serving the film as both consultant and weapons/military trainer. In “Learning the Basics,” we see how hard the cast trained under Luttrell to appear authentic on screen and to honor their real-life counterparts through their performances.
Both picture and sound are strikingly detailed and highly immersive. Image is presented in crisp 1080p High Definition with 2:40:1 aspect ratio. The film’s Academy Award®-nominated sound design can be experienced in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, DVS 2.0 and Español DTS Digital Surround 5.1.
Subtitle options are English SDH and Español.
Mark Wahlberg and a platoon of strong supporting actors fire up one of the most intense action thrillers in years and one of the best war movies of the post-9/11 era.
Lone Survivor is rated R for strong bloody war violence and pervasive language. It has a run time of 2 hours and 2 minutes.