In Lone Survivor, Wahlberg, Foster, Hirsch and Kitsch star as a four man team in mid-noughties Afghanistan whose assassination mission takes a turn for the worst. The film, based on true events and Marcus Luttrell’s fact-based novel of the same name recounting Operation Red Wings, may be forgiven for its sentimentality and overkill of American patriotism due to its very nature as an honouring of lives lost.
The opening credits of the film show real-life footage of American Navy SEALS in training complete with inspirational drill sergeant voiceover and pictures of unity within the ranks; at one point a line of cadets float in the sea, holding hands and singing hymns through the night. The film’s first act depicts the everyday life of the SEAL team on their US military base in Afghanistan, building up character relationships and an analysis of male comradeship.
Everybody has a role to maintain in both work and play it seems, and it is this sentimental calm before the storm that is used in many war-related films to show how a team’s relationships with each other, combined with their discipline, reflect their hardship and merciless killing later on. Unlike Full Metal Jacket, this war film shows the human and caring sides of the soldiers being maintained, not hammered out of them. After a very interesting “what would you do?” situation, which acts as the inciting incident for the merciless assault on the team by Taliban forces, visceral and brutal images of close quarter combat fill the screen and we see the characters deconstructed, both literally and physically before our eyes. Wahlberg’s performance, along with his supporting cast, do justice to the real-life characters as they are chipped away by the trauma of war. Moments of heart-wrenching tragedy combine with their heroism and will to support one another. Both really make you care for the characters, a compliment attributed to the actors, original ‘Lone Survivor’ Luttrell’s source material, and director Berg, who also wrote the screenplay.
The film does its job, depicting a reallife situation in which lives were lost, and honours those who fought in a powerful manner. However, as with most factual wartime dramatizations like Black Hawk Down and We Were Soldiers, we are left with a film that does not raise anything new in relation to the conflict. For that we turn to the likes of Platoon or The Hurt Locker, both fictional films but both raising moral questions about war’s implications on humanity. Perhaps this was not the aim of Lone Survivor, but despite the action, talented acting and story, nothing new is raised on the subject of war that we have not seen before.