War films make for a very strange genre. The majority of them, of course, originate in the States so are quite obviously “God Bless America” in most respects and with that, there is nearly always a need for a hero, someone who has saved the day, a character who is the most “human” of the group that you can easily pin all your hopes on them.
However, the reality of war is brutal and although there are of course heroes, what soldiers witness in war can affect them for the rest of their lives, quite brilliantly played out in Born on the Fourth of July, an aspect of war films that is often ignored. On top of that, exploring something like the “war of terror” on screen can be hard to present as even the soldiers who continue to fight in these wars are fighting an unknown enemy for a cause that can often be viewed as questionable.
This is partially what makes Peter Berg’s Lone Survivor so brilliant.
Based on a true story, Lone Survivor tells the story of Marcus Luttrell who is sent on a mission in Afghanistan to find and kill Al Qaeda leader Ahmad Shad. However, despite the fact that the team source the leader, their mission becomes compromised when three Afghan men discover the hiding places of the marines.
Marcus, along with his three fellow marines, are faced with a decision, whether to compromise the mission and set the men free or to kill the men and continue the mission. Making the decision to free the men, the marines know they face an uphill battle in order to return to their base. As if this wasn’t difficult enough, they lose contact with their commanders, forcing them to face the might of a minor Afghan army who are on their tale.
First off, Lone Survivor is technically brilliant; it is arguably one of the best action films that you will witness on the big screen. There are at least four occasions when you will physically feel the pain of what the soldiers are suffering, particularly that spectacular cliff jump. On top of that, the soldiers take a serious beating throughout the film; there is none of the usual thousand bullets with no one getting hit at all.
The performances are simply brilliant. Although Lone Survivor can suffer from becoming too much “God Bless America”, the actual performances from Foster and Kitsch in particular, are understated and quite simply brilliant. Instead of considering the whole nation implications etc., they worry about their “brothers”, fighting for their lives and the lives of each other.
This is also why Lone Survivor works particularly well. Without giving away the ending, it’s pretty clear that there are no winners and losers, this is simply stripped back to become a survival film and actually a very touching story. The writing doesn’t undermine this either, the characters are wrote very simply.
One big problem however is the title, it becomes quite obvious what is going to happen with the film and this is confirmed within the first few minutes of the film, a plot problem which should have been corrected.
Quite easily one of the better dramatisations of the individual soldier’s attempt to survive. Well worth a watch.