An American Tragedy – A review of Lone Survivor

Taylor Kitsch, Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster and Emile Hirsch play an elite SEAL unit tasked with executing a key Taliban commander in Lone Survivor
Taylor Kitsch, Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster and Emile Hirsch play an elite SEAL unit tasked with executing a key Taliban commander in Lone Survivor

Title: Lone Survivor

Production Company: Universal

Run Time: 121 minutes

Rated: R

Director: Peter Berg

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster, Eric Bana, Alexander Ludwig

5 stars for Lone Survivor

Summary: An incredibly powerful war movie that tells the story behind the failed attempt by an elite SEAL unit to kill a key terrorist leader in Afghanistan in 2005.

Elite military units gel like a brotherhood. The men become extremely close and learn to depend on one another for their own survival in key missions.

Nothing could illustrate this camaraderie better than a SEAL unit which becomes so cohesive that they can almost think as one. When they start second guessing themselves, though, things will fall apart quickly.

Such is the case with Operation Red Wings which took place in 2005. This elite unit was tasked with finding and terminating a key Taliban leader Ahmad Shah (Yousuf Azami) who was living in a small settlement in Afghanistan.

The operation, led by Lt. Mike Murphy (Taylor Kitsch) was to consist of four men who would infiltrate the territory where Shah was living and terminate him with extreme prejudice.

The remaining members of the unit included Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), Danny Deitz (Emile Hirsch) and Matt ‘Axe’ Axelson (Ben Foster). Keeping the unit small and packing light would allow them to get in and out unnoticed and give them the best shot at taking out Shah quickly and quietly.

Unfortunately not long into the mission, the unit is discovered by goat farmers sympathetic to the Taliban. With the operation compromised, they have to make a quick decision. It turns out to be the wrong one.

Faced with overwhelming odds of survival turning against them, the unit elects to fall back and call for extraction. Things go awry fairly quickly and, as the film’s title implies, only one of the four will survive.

The firefight is visceral and intense and you can’t help but feel like you’ve been pulled into the mix. Watching the systematic push to destroy this unit is both incredible and terrifying to behold. There are more palpably frightening moments in this picture than you will find in a standard quality horror movie.

War movies that are done well allow you the time to get to know the members of the unit that it follows. This way you can better understand the glue that holds them together. Some of the best films that have accomplished this recently include Saving Private Ryan and The Hurt Locker.

Here again, we learn the back story of many of the members of the unit. When they fall, it’s like we too have lost a brother, a son or a beloved friend.

That is the true strength of this movie. And all four of the main actors convey that likability upfront. Likewise, many of the supporting characters also manage to generate that sense of familiarity which enhances the tragedy of this event all the more.

Also, one cannot go to this movie thinking that it will simply be a two hour anti-Muslim, anti-Taliban infomercial. Some of the characters that are introduced will pleasantly surprise and even lift the hopes of the human spirit. There is good everywhere, and this film overwhelmingly proves that.

At the end of this movie, there is a heroes’ montage of all the members of Operation Red Wings who lost their lives in this debacle. It lasts several minutes but is a lasting legacy for these brave men who gave their lives to try to make the world a safer place.

Shah himself escaped the event and wouldn’t be killed until three later, but the mission severely curtailed his ability to accomplish anything in Afghanistan so he fled to Pakistan where he died in a shoot out with Pakistani police.

On a final note, I saw this movie in a theater with about 40 guys, most of whom were quite a bit bulkier than I am. If you want to get emotion out of a guy, bring him to a war movie. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house and the guys who were there shook hands and hugged each other when the movie ended. A war movie will bring out the best in even the most stoic of us.

Lone Survivor is well worth checking out. It’s taut, tight and compelling and not for the faint of heart. I give it a thumb’s up and 5 out of 5 stars.

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