Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 
Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable

Review: Mark Wahlberg Valiantly Fights For His Life In Intense 'Lone Survivor,' But Its Pro-Militant Leanings Are Questionable

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Indiewire December 23, 2013 at 9:31AM

Without delving much into the paradoxes of modern warfare, "Lone Survivor" embodies them.
9
Lone Survivor

The tagline for "Lone Survivor," the violently unnerving depiction of a 2005 Navy SEAL mission gone wrong in Afghanistan, gets at the essence of its flaws: "Based on true acts of courage" conveys the same brand of blind self-empowerment behind the militant spirit behind the incursions at hand. As Noam Chomsky famously wrote with regard to the pervasive "Support Our Troops" campaign, it's "a slogan that nobody is going to be against and I suppose everybody will be for."

In other words, it's a rather pathetic marketing coup that lays bear the desperation of promoting a grisly project not strong enough to speak on its own terms. (Imagine the posters for "12 Years a Slave" carrying the same phrase.) "Lone Survivor" is a grotesque action movie at times impressively directed by Peter Berg that combines the brute masculinity with the ugliness of the battlefield and viscerally unsettling shock value. But it's less a depiction of courage than a brutish magnification of anger and pain, both of which it conveys a lot better than the high ground that it reaches for.

But, boy, does it reach. The opening training montage, which sets the stage for the ensuing tense tale of a botched assassination mission in the Afghan countryside, drags on and on throughout a prolonged credits sequence featuring documentary footage that may as well serve as a prolonged recruitment video. It's impressive to watch the Seals undergo extensive physical endurance tests just to prove how much they've been toughened up for the missions at hand, but it's also a rather empty introduction for anyone who doesn't automatically relate to the process at hand that basically says: These are guys tough. Is there nothing that can break them?

Lone Survivor

Those boundaries are capably tested when a small group of soldiers, including Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) and Matt Axelson (Ben Foster), wind up in a prolonged firefight as their operation turns sour and survival prospects grow increasingly dim. "Winning here is a conscious decision," says their gruff commander (Eric Bana) ahead of the mission. Hurtling down a rocky mountainside while breaking bones and exchanging constant fire, the men are battered into a bloody pulp as the body count rises -- it's no spoiler to say that only one among them manages to escape the chaos with his life.

The bulk of the movie takes place under these drab proceedings, and Berg successfully ramps up the intensity with abrasive sound design and a rapid montage that constantly shifts between closeups of the frantic men and the speedy Taliban members lurking among the trees nearby. Like Berg's 2007's soldier drama "The Kingdom," the battle manages to convey a physically extreme process while at the same time feeling resoundingly empty. At least in Berg's "Battleship," the cartoonish belligerence operated under the guise of Hollywood escapism. No such luck in "Lone Survivor," which tries to use its gory visuals in service of blurry ideas about the nature of conflict.

In "Saving Private Ryan," the prolonged opening battle sequence managed to the convey the hellish nature of war precisely because it felt so impersonal. But "Lone Survivor" plays up a lightweight message about good and evil once Wahlberg's character happens upon neutral Afghani villagers who offer him aid at a critical moment in the third act. It's a rather simplistic equation -- they fought hard for a reason, you see -- that uses its non-fiction foundation like an excuse note. By the time it arrives at a coda filled with images of real life fallen soldiers set to a cover of David Bowie's "Heroes," the movie has unapologetically transformed into a commercial memorial both lamenting the stakes of military conflict and saluting it. Without delving much into the paradoxes of modern warfare, "Lone Survivor" embodies them.

Criticwire Grade: C

HOW WILL IT PLAY? Opening December 27 in limited release, "Lone Survivor" will hit theaters nationwide on January 10. The crowded year-end release calendar means it won't generate much box office heat at that time, but it could benefit from beginning of the year exposure as most awards season movies will have been out for some time by then. Still, it has slim prospects of a long-term performance. 


This article is related to: Reviews, Lone Survivor, Universal Pictures, Peter Berg, Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch, War






Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome



Awards Season Spotlight

Contender Conversations

Indiewire celebrates the best and brightest from Independent film, Hollywood, and foreign cinema.

More