Opens Fri., Jan. 10 at Pacific Place and other theaters. Rated R. 121 minutes.
This movie’s title, and Mark Wahlberg’s being the only face on its poster, gives you the ending but not the impetus to Peter Berg’s grueling war drama. Wahlberg plays Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, who participated in a 2005 raid in Afghanistan that went terribly wrong. His bestselling 2007 memoir became a darling of the Glenn Beck/Sarah Palin right, which shouldn’t deter you from seeing Lone Survivor. Politics don’t figure in this patriotic story, and you get the feeling the raid would’ve ended badly no matter who occupied the White House. However, it takes a tough constitution to endure Berg’s long central firefight, which seems to go on forever.
Berg introduces Luttrell and his three buddies in efficient, Old Hollywood style; the others are Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Dietz (Emile Hirsch), and Axelson (Ben Foster). Each is given a defining trait (Texan, fiancee, tattoo artist, etc.), but they’re really just parts of a single combat organism, bound by taunting and testosterone. (There are no women in the film.) As in Berg’s 2004 Friday Night Lights, the team finds coherence on the field—here meaning in the field, dropped by helicopter near a remote village to reconnoiter a hit on an Al Qaeda leader.
This is where, unlike the impeccable efficiency of the Navy SEALs in Captain Phillips, it all goes to shit. Asymmetrical warfare flips against our expensively provided foursome. Their cover is blown by goatherds. The sat-phones don’t work. Their support helicopters are pulled away to other missions. And finally they’re alone, encircled on a hilltop by 100 Taliban fighters whom Berg poses against the skyline like Indians preparing to attack a wagon train in Monument Valley.
Using occasional bursts of slo-mo for emphasis, Berg may glorify these brave SEALs, but he doesn’t romanticize combat. It’s a nasty business of ducking fire, retreating down cliffs, and packing gunshot wounds with dirt. (“Did they really shoot me in the fucking head?” one guy wonders. Yes, they did.) There have been several other military-approved combat movies since 9/11, but this one—to its credit—hardly plays like a recruitment ad.