To prepare you for the intensity that follows in the reenactment of Operation Red Wings, director Peter Berg launches Lone Survivor with actual Navy SEAL training videos. SEALs are indeed a unique breed. And when you see four of them fighting for their lives in the Afghan mountains, absorbing bullets, concussive RPG blasts, and battering rolls down cliffs, seeing what they went through just to become Navy SEALs in the first place gains context.
Operation Red Wings was small in scope, with the assassination of a key Taliban leader the goal. Winds shifted and it became much more complex, trapping Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch), and Matthew Axelson (Ben Foster) in enemy territory.
Locally, Operation Red Wings is known because a soldier in the rescue mission – Boulder City resident Shane Patton – was among 16 killed when a Taliban RPG shot down his helicopter. Patton figures into the story mainly in its first third, when we learn more about the soldiers’ personal stories and explore the camaraderie that only exists in the military.
There are war movies that make statements and war movies that glamorize and war movies that miss wildly. Lone Survivor gets it right. Its focus is tight and its action is jarring and in your face; you will not sit comfortably watching these men roll down the mountainside. Based on Luttrell’s memoir of the same name, Lone Survivor rightly sets the stakes early and lets the battle take over.
Once the bullets start flying, there is not much more character development. Still, because the world needs more Ben Foster movies, pay special attention to his work as Axelson even through the fighting, although among the principals, there’s not really a weak link.
A final note: At the end of the film, there’s a tribute to the men who died in Operation Red Wings. Honor them and stay in your seat.
Lone Survivor, Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster. Directed by Peter Berg. R, 121 mins.