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Movie review: Lone Survivor

Updated on February 1, 2014

When Peter Berg appeared in John Dahl's classic The Last Seduction in 1994, it looked like the arrival of a promising talent to our screens. But it didn't quite work out for him; he even had to take on a role in Chicago Hope when it wasn't very fashionable for film actors to do TV.

He then decided to get behind the camera in 1998, making an impressive debut with the deliciously dark comedy Very bad Things. Since then however, he's had a decidedly average directing career, which culminated in 2012 with one of the greatest crimes against cinema in recent memory – Battleship.

Berg is clearly not one to give up easily, and although his return is a marked improvement on his last project, it's not that difficult when you were responsible for one of the worst films of all time.

For four members of Operation Red Wings – Marcus (Mark Wahlberg), Michael (Taylor Kitsch), Danny (Emile Hirsch) and Matt (Ben Foster) – their reconnaissance mission wasn't out of the ordinary: to be dropped into enemy territory in Afghanistan and locate their target.

When you're out in the field however, you can never second guess every eventuality, so when a situation arises that wasn't planned for, it takes the unit a little time to mull over what to do next. When a decision is finally made, it transpires that it was the wrong one, as the four of them soon find themselves hunted by the Taliban, with all comms down, fighting for their lives.

Regardless of how Berg does, it has to be said that a school boy error was made from the off. It's a maths test of the easiest kind; four soldiers go out on a mission, in a film called Lone Survivor, how many make it back? To add insult to significant injury, Berg starts the film with one soldier on the medic's table, before heading into a major flashback of how he got there three days earlier.

This then, is a film of very few surprises. It could be argued that as the film is based on actual real life events, as revealed in a book of the same name, that the title is just being faithful to the story and its author. Maybe so, but as the book isn't that well known, it could have simply been mentioned as an aside at the end of the film. As it stands, Berg simply leaves the audience to count down on one hand as the cast literally bite the bullet one by one.

It's a shame that the title isn't the only annoying element. Berg gets some credit for not resorting to a large, predictably gun ho orchestrated soundtrack. Unfortunately the subdued and laid back effort he goes with just doesn't sit well with the film. It's also a little too similar to the Berg directed feature Friday Night Lights, which isn't that surprising as it's supplied by the same band known as Explosions in the Sky.

There are strong performances from the male leads, particularly from Foster who is clearly the go to guy for slightly unhinged characters, and from Kitsch who is clearly trying to make amends, with audiences at least, for letting Berg talk him into starring in the atrocious Battleship.

You would expect a strong director, who is clearly handicapped by a title that pretty much describes the premise of the whole film, to throw in a few cinematic grenades to keep audiences on their toes, but sadly if he did have any, they were clearly duds which simply fell to the floor with a definite empty thud, a bit like Wahlberg in a number of his scenes.

Berg is obviously talented, but there needs to be some quality control where his work and projects are concerned, or at least some consistency in one direction or the other. Apparently his next two directing gigs are both TV movies, which may well be as strong an indication as any as to where his directorial talents will ultimately lie.

3 booms

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