Navy SEALS may be the toughest, bravest, craziest, most well-trained soldiers in the world. They are still human, however, and they are anything but invulnerable.
“Lone Survivor” plays as a tribute to the men of the SEALS from filmmaker Peter Berg (“Friday Night Lights”), but it is in no way warm and fuzzy.
Based on a best-selling book about the doomed mission Operation Red Wings, it is stark and brutal and has a realistic feel of desperation.
The film begins with a montage of what look like actual training sequences, where the majority of SEAL candidates wash out.
Once that’s done, we’re introduced to the real characters and their strong sense of camaraderie — first with the glimpse of a rescue mission, then a flashback to two days earlier, with the SEALS preparing for action at a base in Afghanistan, circa 2005.
Four men — Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), Matt Axelson (Ben Foster), Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) and mission leader Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch) — will be dropped deep into Taliban territory to locate wanted leader Ahmad Shahd.
It’s considered a rather standard mission, albeit with spotty communications expected due to the crazy terrain. An unforeseen wrench, however, wanders into the operation and the four men face a moral dilemma, followed by a hasty retreat and a bloody fight.
This is no triumphant “Zero Dark Thirty,” instead looking much more like “Black Hawk Down.”
Those who can read and count might guess how many of the four SEALS will survive. Berg doesn’t pour on the melodrama, mostly letting the events play out without any sugar coating or false heroism.
Training and courage can only do so much against overwhelming numbers, and rocket launchers. Bullets rip into bodies, men bounce down rocky cliffs hoping only that enough bones remain unbroken that they can still move when they get to the bottom.
The movie doesn’t waste much time developing the characters beyond the point of letting us know that they’d do anything for each other, but this is a tale of survival, not growth, and Berg tells it capably.
What starts out as a recruitment film almost feels like a cautionary tale by movie’s end. There’s heroism, but no glory. “Lone Survivor” can be tough to watch, but it’s worthwhile.
Rental Recommendation: “Bravo Two Zero” is another story of bravery during a mission gone bad, this time with British special forces during the Gulf War. Grade: B.
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Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster.
Rated: R (for strong bloody war violence and pervasive language).
Running time: 121 minutes.