Lone Survivor

January, 2014, Drama


Jingoism: the feelings and beliefs of people who think that their country is always right and who are in favor of aggressive acts against other countries.

Merriam Webster Dictionary

 Nine years ago, a quartet of Navy Seals was dropped into the rugged highlands of Afghanistan to capture or kill Ahmad Shahd, a Taliban leader responsible for numerous attacks on civilians and members of the U.S. military. Discovered by a small group of goat herders, the team frees them as noncombatants only to be subsequently overwhelmed by a heavily armed contingent of Taliban who’ve been alerted by the herdsmen. 

 Only Petty Officer First Class Marcus Luttrell survived the ensuing battle. He wrote a book detailing the mission and writer/actor/director Peter Berg has turned that tragedy into a violence-drenched movie of the same name. Equal parts atavistic voyeurism, jingoistic  screed and recruiting vehicle for our elite military forces, Survivor spends two often-incoherent hours demonstrating how effective the United States has been in recruiting, training and deploying young men who excel at killing people. But Berg’s paean to our Special Forces fails to explore the rationale behind the team’s mission, rendering his film morally ambivalent and not a little boring, notwithstanding its endless mayhem, presented in gruesome, pulpy detail.

 Survivor opens with documentary footage of the excruciating training regimen SEAL team members go through before being deployed. The action then shifts to the Afgan military base from which the mission will be directed. Mark Wahlberg, plays Luttrell and he’s ably supported by Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch & Ben Foster as the other members of the assault team. They’re depicted as patriotic, dedicated to each other and unquestionably brave while their opponents are uniformly pictured as brutal thugs, irrationally focused on slaughtering anyone who opposes them, fellow Afgans included. As a result, Survivor none-too-subtly suggests American moral superiority set against Taliban numerical superiority and as it records the resulting bloodshed. That Luttrell owes his ultimate survival to the actions of Pashtun tribesman does little to balance the moral scales: the director’s sole purpose appears to be honoring U.S. military skill and bravery and it will be interesting to see how American audiences, weary of our dubious commitments to a country both indifferent to and unappreciative of our presence there will react to the mind-numbing carnage Berg delivers.

 The Verdict? A curiously flat action-drama whose characters aren’t allowed enough screen time to develop before dying in the most appalling ways.

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