Blood and brotherhood
WHAT is it with director Peter Berg and throwing his leading men down mountains? This time, it’s very far removed from the fantasy tumbles that The Rock and Seann William Scott took – and emerged from with just a few scratches – in The Rundown.
Lone Survivor is based on a true story and you will feel every bump, crunch and snap that its four-man Navy SEAL reconnaissance team takes as they battle for their lives against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The mountainous terrain visits as much harm upon their bodies as the enemy bullets and rocket-propelled grenades. Add to that the terrifying speed at which their foe outmanoeuvres them – being well acquainted with the rock and stone of the area, as we see in one sequence where a young goatherd leaps nimbly about on the slopes – and their mission soon becomes a punishing struggle to survive.
You will certainly flinch many times while watching this movie, said to be a passion project for a director known more for quirky fantasy outings such as Hancock and Battleship. But he keeps it painful and real in this really good war survival story.
Berg reportedly spent a month with real Navy SEALs to acquaint himself with their ways and make his script as authentic as possible, and he even opens the film with a montage of actual SEAL training exercises.
This has a dual effect. First, it immerses the viewer in their gruelling regimen right from the get-go; second, it provides some insight into the mindset of the Navy SEAL, of reaching deep down and finding reserves of will and strength each man never imagined he had, in order to achieve.
Later, when you look at how committed each man is to completing his mission, or even his task of the moment, to the point of putting his life on the line every time, it makes sense, in a baffling and almost crazy way.
The end result is also that we can easily segue right into and believe the camaraderie of Lone Survivor’s four central SEALs, even if they are played by Hollywood stars known for more colourful roles – it’s Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch), Angel (Ben Foster) of the X-Men, John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) and Dirk Diggler (Mark
Wahlberg), for crying out loud.
Those other personas, though, seem worlds away when you look at the tightly knit band of no-nonsense warriors they play – very solidly, I must add – here.
While the title does give a lot away, I found myself much more emotionally invested in seeing how their fight for survival plays out than, say, the uniformed ciphers that just seemed to go through the motions in Ridley
Scott’s Black Hawk Down.
Based on the book by Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson, which recounts the disastrous Operation Red Wings in Afghanistan in 2005, Lone Survivor smartly avoids dwelling on the larger War on Terror (or Overseas
Contingency Operation as the US regime of the day prefers).
I can’t say if the book had much of this, but keeping the film relatively free of any attempt to validate the war does help it go down better in non-partisan (as in “not the United States”) territories.
Instead of politics and justification, the film zooms in on the brotherhood of these comrades-in-arms, showing us quick snapshots of their lives – an upcoming wedding, an ongoing home redecoration, a warrior simply
missing his wife – up to the point of embarking upon their mission.
All they have to do is reconnoitre a remote mountain village, confirm that a senior Taliban leader is there, and call in the quick response force. Well, things rapidly turn sideways when they’re forced to switch vantage
points, encounter some local goatherds and agonise over what to do with them.
In essence, the centrepiece of the film is one long running firefight, with communications disrupted by the terrain and an uncannily fast-moving foe bent on wiping them out. By a certain point, even the more hardened viewers among us would have been worn out by the unrelenting brutality. So it’s a welcome moment when, suddenly, it relents.
An interlude in another Afghan village – one that’s decidedly unfriendly to the Taliban, as one villager’s terse pronouncement illustrates – gives one warrior and the audience a chance to rest up before more
It’s also heartening to see the villagers’ commitment to their offer of sanctuary.
While the earlier parts of the film may have shown us how far the SEALs would go for each other, it’s an eye-opener when you see the extent th at others will go for a stranger.
It’s all explained in the epilogue, followed by a touching montage of the actual men involved in Operation Red Wings and their movie counterparts. At the end, you may find yourself departing the theatre in silence,
stunned respectful silence.
We may all have differing views on the war, and certainly few of us in this part of the world would see it as red, white and blue; but Lone Survivor triumphs across divides and boundaries by focusing on the red – the blood
spilled for the sake of others.