Visceral and immersive, ‘Lone Survivor’ impresses

By Matt McIlnay

“Lone Survivor” isn’t the type of movie I would normally watch. I don’t find military-themed films to be very interesting, and “Lone Survivor’s” bland poster and premise didn’t make me change my mind. However, after enduring one of the worst Januaries for film in years, I was ready to watch just about anything. Surprisingly, I enjoyed “Lone Survivor”.

On the surface, “Lone Survivor” is pretty simple. Based upon a true story, the film revolves around a group of four Navy Seals who are tasked with eliminating Ahmad Shah, an infamous Al Qaeda leader responsible for numerous war crimes. After an encounter with a group of locals goes badly, the mission breaks down and the team members find themselves under fire.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that premise sounds incredibly generic, and the beginning of the film doesn’t discourage that notion. The film starts by spending about half an hour developing the four main characters and giving us background on the mission, and this is by far the worst part of the film. The writing and acting during this section isn’t necessarily bad, but it drags on and often just isn’t very interesting.

Things become more exciting once the Seals begin their mission. It would be a spoiler to say exactly how, but the main characters soon get caught up in a brutal firefight in which they’re hopelessly outgunned and outnumbered. This kicks off the action-packed second act.

At this point, “Lone Survivor” goes from a mildly interesting war film to gripping entertainment. The gorgeously shot action, frantic editing and the excellent performances from Mark Wahlberg and friends all combine to create a truly harrowing experience. You feel a growing sense of desperation as it becomes clear just how desperate the plight of the main characters is. The Seal’s supernatural endurance for bullet wounds and physical trauma does start to get ridiculous at a point, but you still feel really bad for what they have to go through.

“Lone Survivor” doesn’t pull any punches about how ugly war is. Beyond showing enough combat trauma and gaping wounds to last you a lifetime, the film hammers home the point that the good guys just don’t win sometimes. There is a certain degree of military bravado, but this fades as the film marches on. The action becomes almost depressing to watch as the main characters crumble under a never-ending onslaught of bullets and RPGs.

What’s impressive is how “Lone Survivor” doesn’t devolve to vicious stereotyping or hatred despite all the hardship its characters endure at the hands of Al Qaeda. It’s certainly a pro-America film that holds an almost religious reverence for servicemen and that takes great pleasure in the sight of American soldiers gunning down cruel Al Qaeda soldiers, but the filmmakers also go out of their way to illustrate that not all Middle-Easterners are terrorists. It’s encouraging to see a war film that demonstrates that there are good and bad people in any country.

There’s a lot to love about “Lone Survivor”. It’s technically superb, well-acted, and a lot more balanced in its portrayal of other countries than many other war films. It’s not always a fun film to watch, but it’s very compelling if you can stomach its depressing nature and a lot of gore. “Lone Survivor” is well worth a look if you’re planning on seeing a film in the next few weeks, especially since there’s not much else out right now to watch that’s even remotely decent.

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