The newest Mark Wahlberg action movie, Lone Survivor is based on the true story of a combined/joint military operation dubbed Operation Red Wings. The goal was for four soldiers to survey and recon a group of structures that were being used by the operation’s target, Ahmad Shah. Shah was a leader of the Anti-Coalition Militia, which made him a primary target for the U.S. military.
The movie starts with four Navy SEALS waking up and preparing for the day’s tasks. The scene then shifts to a briefing for a mission they are about to partake in. They are told that their target, Shah, will be located in a small village with only around 10 men serving as his bodyguards. The four Navy SEALS assigned to the task are Leading Petty Officer Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Gunner’s Mate Second Class Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch), and Sonar Technician (Surface) Second Class Petty Officer Mathew Axelson (Ben Foster).
When the squad makes it to their Observation Post they get a rude awakening. Instead of the 10 hostiles they were expecting there are around 200. The squad is then accidently discovered by three goat herders, who they quickly capture. Though the soldiers plan on aborting the mission, they are left with the difficult decision on what to do with the prisoners. Their options are to let them go, leave them tied up (where they will most likely be killed by wolves or the elements), or shoot them and bury the bodies. Dietz and Axelson want to kill the prisoners so that they can salvage the mission, but Luttrell argues that killing the locals is immoral. They opt to leave the decision in the hands of the LT who lets the prisoners go. This scene makes the audience think about what he or she would do in that situation; would you carry out the objective no matter the cost or risk everything by following your morals?
The “right” decision quickly backfires, however, and the squad finds itself pursued by hundreds of hostiles. Given the name of the movie it is quite obvious that only one of the SEALS will make it out alive. Since Mark Whalberg is the headliner one can safely assume Luttrell is the survivor.
The shootouts in this movie are amazing and realistic. In the moments leading up to the first confrontation, the camera rapidly darts from tree to tree echoing what a soldier would do if they knew the enemy was nearby. Although generally overused (especially in action films), the consistent shaking of the camera creates a powerful “in the moment” feeling. It makes the viewer feel like they are in the middle of the firefight; adrenaline is pumping and sense are heightened. Lone Survivor is so suspenseful that at several moments you will think that the movie is over, only to be jolted out of that false hope.
What stands out about Lone Survivor almost as much as the intense action scenes is what leads up to them. In many instances the squad talks about their personal lives as a way to distract from the reality of the situation they are in. Some of the discussions are actually quite funny as it is revealed Murphy’s fiancé wants an Arabian horse as a wedding gift, while Dietz’s wife wants to redecorate the house and paint it an embarrassing color.
Lone Survivor shows you the depth of the bonds of brotherhood that these four men shared. Battered, shot and bloodied they refused to stop moving. They literally threw themselves over a mountain — twice — just to make sure they put enough distance between them and their pursuers. Lone Survivor will keep you engrossed for its entirety, and is a fantastic movie to kick off the New Year. You will leave the theater prouder than ever of our brave soldiers and hope for nothing but positive things for them.
[Editor's Note: Davis Johnson was one of CL's fall 2013 interns and delivered this review before his term ended. Best of luck, Davis.]