“Lone Survivor” provides further proof that war is, indeed, hell.
The battle scene that takes up much of the film’s running time is a Hieronymus Bosch style glimpse into the very heart of battle. Grisly and gory, it is about pushing the limits of endurance as far as possible.
But “Lone Survivor” isn’t simply a shoot ‘em up.
Between the bullets is a complex story about morality and the men who put themselves in harm’s way.
The film is based on the real-life SEAL Team 10’s Operation Red Wings, a failed 2005—the movie’s title in itself is a spoiler—War in Afghanistan mission to locate, capture (or eliminate) Taliban leader Ahmad Shah (Yousuf Azami).
The carefully planned operation goes wrong almost as soon as the team—SO2 Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), LT Michael P. Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), SO2 Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) and SO2 Matthew Axelson (Ben Foster)—touch ground in the Kush Mountains. Their job is hindered by faulty a communication radio, but the mission is undone when they are discovered by an older man and two boys.
The commandoes make the decision to let the four unarmed shepherds go, but their kindness comes back to haunt them when shortly afterwards a Taliban army descends on their position and they are hopelessly outnumbered.
There’s no gunfire in the first hour of “Lone Survivor.” The time is spent getting to know the characters, their situation and absorbing the gravity of the mission at hand. Then, sixty minutes in, it turns into a bullet ballet. But it is those opening minutes that make the payoff of the last hour so potent.
Without getting to know the brotherhood the characters share we won’t buy in later on when their bond and training are the only things that will decide their fate.
The acting is uniformly good. Walhberg is understated but undeniably powerful as the Luttrell. His character is the glue that holds the movie together, and he delivers.
As the sharp-tongued and direct Axelson Ben Foster is, well, Ben Foster. He’s one of the best actors working today and his portrayal is passionate, patriotic but grounded in truth. It takes some doing to deliver a line like, “Did they really shoot me in the ******* head?” with any measure of believability, but Foster manages.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is Taylor Kitsch. He had a bad couple of years after becoming a small screen star on “Friday Night Lights.” The promise of a big screen career seemed to evaporate in the trifecta of failure—big budget flops “John Carter,” “Battleship,” “Savages”—but here he finds his groove and reminds us of the charisma that made him a name in the first place.
“Lone Survivor” is a visceral experience. Not since “Saving Private Ryan” has a battle scene been so effectively rendered but at its core it isn’t a propaganda film or a slice of patriotism; instead it’s a stark reminder of the camaraderie of soldiers in the field.
I wasn’t sure how they could possibly turn a board game into a movie, and now that I’ve seen “Battleship” I’m convinced that it can’t be done—very well, at least. What’s next, Jenga: This Time It’s Personal? Two-plus hours of soulless claptrap and joyless cacophony of twisted metal, AC/DC songs and angry aliens does not a movie make. I’d like to suggest a new title, “Shock and Awful.”
Based on the Hasbro board game Battleship, the movie begins when scientists discover a nearby planet with an atmosphere similar to Earth. When they make contact, instead of a hi-how-are-ya they are greeted with a full-on alien invasion. The only person standing between them and is Lieutenant Alex Hopper
(Taylor Kitsch), an undisciplined officer unwillingly thrust into power.
“Battleship” is one of those alien invasion movies in which you hope the aliens win. It takes forty minutes or so to get to the attack, and by then you are so tired of the Hopper Brothers (Kitsch and Alexander Skarsgård), the stoic admiral (Liam “Paycheque” Neeson) and his daughter Sam (Brooklyn Decker) that you pray the aliens (big lizard-eyed creatures in Iron Man drag) will make short work of the bunch of them so you can leave the theatre and do something productive with your time. Like watch paint dry. Or cut and apple in half and watch it turn brown. Both are more fun than “Battleship.”
The actors aren’t exactly to blame, however. Even though Taylor Kitsch blands it up and Rhianna continues the grand tradition of singers-turned-actors-who-should-stick-to-music, they aren’t helped by a script that plays like a greatest hits of every action movie script that came before.
Cliché Chart Toppers? “I didn’t sign up for this!” (That’s the action movie equivalent of the old guy line, “I’m too old for this…”) “I got a bad feeling about this!” (Kitsch says this after the aliens have destroyed much of Hawaii, so either he’s the King of Understatement or this is the worst written movie of the year.)
Also, can we call a moratorium on electric beams that shoot into the sky, opening portals to other planets? We’ve seen that in almost every sci fi movie in recent memory and it is an effect way past its expiration date.
“Battleship” is exactly what is wrong with summer movies. It’s unnecessarily long, unnecessarily loud, unnecessarily bombastic… just unnecessary. Like the alien attack in the movie, you don’t just watch this movie, you endure, hoping to survive another day.
You know who sunk this battleship? Director Peter Berg, that’s who.