Film Review: Lone Survivor

I really don’t know the best way to sum up my feelings on Lone Survivor. How exactly I should feel about it. How I should review it. Firstly, I probably would have let it slip by had it not been for my Mother. I’d seen some reviews that were not overly favourable towards it, had caught the trailer briefly and prejudged it as nothing more than an Afghan adventure style war film, and wasn’t overly fussed about going to see it.

Surprisingly though, my mother wanted to see it. I wouldn’t have ever picked her to want to see a war movie starring Mark Wahlberg but she did and so, never one to turn down a trip to the cinema, tickets were booked and off we went.

However, I thought it would probably make sense to watch the trailer again properly before I went in, and so a quick trip to Youtube, skewed my expectations somewhat and left me wondering what exactly I was going to see. I know when it comes to critic comments used to promote a film they are essentially hollywood propoganda and likely to own be “the best of the best” even if they aren’t accurate but “The most extraordinary war film since saving private ryan” is quite some claim for someone to throw at a war film.

What I got though, left me completely torn, and now writing this the following day, having given the film a chance to sink in I’m still not sure exactly what or how I feel about the film.

It is one hell of a film. It is gripping, it is tense and it is psychological. It will take you into a war zone and beat you up like nothing I have seen before it. Over recent years, Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker have taken us realistically into the “War On Terror” as the American’s call it in stunning fashion leaving you feeling washed out and full of questions at the actions and dangers faced but Lone Survivor takes it to whole new level.

The majority of this film centres around one big, long, drawn out gun battle. It’s a fight sequence that feels all too real. You’re there. You’re being shot at. But sadly, it also starts to create this movies own downfall.

Firstly, while this movie is based on a true story, I am sure that parts of it have been ramped up for the Hollywood effect. I’m not talking about explosions in the style of Michael Bay, but rather the ability of a man to fall down a cliff in a smashing into everything and everything and then get up and fight on – albeit slightly more beaten up than he was. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure they did fall down cliffs. I’m sure they did face a situation of “stay here and die or jump over the edge and take your chance” but I’m not convinced it’s quite to the levels of human abuse and endurance shown on screen.

Secondly, the title. It’s given the game away. There are movies out there that use the trailer to give away the plot. The latest Fast and Furious movie for instance, but Lone Survivor named it’s entire movie after it’s ending. It’s like a Bond film – you know Bond will not get killed because he’s needed for the next film. Lone Survivor you know only one is getting out. And so, while the fire fight has you on the edge of your seat, you are always just waiting for an outcome your already know.

Thirdly, and this is a strange criticism, but the film isn’t as loud as I was expecting. War isn’t quiet. Chinooks, Apache’s, RPGs, gun fire, they all make noise, lots and lots of noise, and yet, this film seems to turn the volume dial down to 8 and never take advantage of the soundscape available to it in a modern cinema environment. It doesn’t spoil the movie as much as it’s other problems, but it’s noticeable.

And finally, while the film feels balanced. It’s not just American’s shooting the evil Taliban propaganda that could have been so easily wheeled out in a modern war film – but rather it’s a war film, each side die, each side are brutal, each side show humility and togetherness. It ends in a way that it just completely spoils it. It takes a film that, aside from the previous two problems, was actually starting to make me think that it might be one of the defining war films of its generation and then drops the baton at the film hurdle.

I know it’s based on a true story, I know that a lot of soldiers were killed, a lot of family changed forever, but it didn’t need the ending. It didn’t need to have a real life connection thrown so unashamedly into my face. By spending time at the end reflectively showing me the family pictures of all those to lose their lives in Operation Red Wings, I was left completely overwhelmed by a sense of overly patriotic remembrance and tribute. It spoils the film, not because it’s not needed or required, but because the tone is totally wrong.

This is a hard hitting film, it needed to finish with a simple black and white text list of names. Scroll up the screen and fade to black. Do that and you’d have a fitting piece of film making to a story that deserved to be told. As it is, I just feel like I’ve watched a film made more with a view of thanking the families of those involved rather than reminding me what our troops go through. What they are prepared to do to keep us safe.

I have no idea exactly what life is like for troops, locals, the Taliban who live and fight these battles, but this is the closest I have ever come to feeling like I did. If you ignore the problems I have with this film, there is one major flaw I am still yet to mention. It’s a phrase I hate but it needs to be applied – the romance of war – this film has none. This film is raw, this film is raw, it’s in your face. I just think that films about Afghanistan, about the war on terror are still too new. Too close to reality. For all I know, I’m sitting in seat G11 watching a gun fight that could easily be happening at that exact moment 3,500 miles away. It’s just too unsettling a thought.

Lone Survivor doesn’t deserve to be ignored, there were 6 people in our showing, and that is doing it an injustice because it’s a good film. It’s worth seeing. But watch it in the knowledge it’s an unpleasant viewing that’ll leave you feeling mixed up at the end.

8 out of 10 stars (8 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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