A caption at the start of the film states that Lone Survivor is based on a true story. I find the events to follow heavily made up because what transpires throughout the 121 minute runtime is remarkably idiotic and thoroughly unrealistic.
We first meet Navy SEALs Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitcsh), Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch), and Matt “Axe” Axelson (Ben Foster) on a Naval base, and each of them sports a beard which is, apparently, in accordance with uniform regulation these days. The four SEALS are tasked with traveling to a mountainous region in Afghanistan in order to assassinate a highly ranked Taliban leader. They are dropped off at a specific location and are immediately faced with radio communication problems because, well, it’s convenient to throw that into the scenario; there always exists a clichéd omen right before the stupid kicks in. The radioman claims that the higher the SEALs climb the hills, the more they lose satellite communication, so I issue a kind word of advice to director/screenwriter Peter Berg: you’re wrong. They’re out in the open and they’re not using cell phones. Satellite communication should be a breeze out there.
Anyway, as quickly as they spot their target they almost immediately, and again, inconveniently run into a goat herder and two young boys. They are then faced with several options: 1) kill them and move on, 2) tie them up to several trees and gag them, 3) let them go and hope that they don’t rat on them to the Taliban, in which case they must hurry and take out their target more quickly, and 4) take them with them. Now, here’s the thing: I came up with option #4. It’s not in the film. Lieutenant Murphy, the leader of the bunch, decides to go with option #3 and lo and behold! The old man and two young boys rat on the SEALs and a small Taliban army attacks our fearless heroes.
As if the film wasn’t dumb enough already, most of its remainder focuses on the SEALs and their fight for survival. They face off against, at least, 30 Taliban soldiers, each equipped with AK-47s, and a few who are equipped with rocket launchers. As they attempt to backtrack to a secure location where they may contact their headquarters and call for backup or an evacuation, they fall down not one, but two rocky hills and break almost every single bone in their bodies. They are also each shot several times and display superhuman feats of strength and endurance. With sprained and/or broken ankles, arms, and ribs, and several bullets embedded inside them they still manage to get pretty far. But, one by one they are eventually unable to continue (as the film’s title suggests).
The film starts with superfluous character back-stories that don’t add anything of significance to the plot nor help to elevate the cast from clichéd nobodies to real men who are stuck in a real albeit terrible situation; it continues with the four SEALs making a ridiculously stupid decision; and then finishes off with them kind of surviving what would kill normal soldiers in real life, very quickly, or, at least render them immobile. I leave the third act for you to discover because it’s as brain-dead, terribly written, and even more clichéd than anything that’s already happened previously throughout the film.
And now for the even worse part: Lone Survivor is one of the most ineptly shot big-budgeted Hollywood actioners that I’ve seen in many years. It’s an even worse shot film than the two Expendables films, and that’s mostly due to Peter Berg focusing on the soldiers getting hurt (maimed, broken, snapped in half, and shot multiple times) rather than on the predicament that the majority of the film is about. Most of the film is shot in close-up shots, focusing the cuts, bruises, breaks, and bullet holes and as a result the audience doesn’t understand what is physically happening during the gunfights. We don’t get a sense of the geography in which the gunfights take place, and to make it worse, most of the film is shot in and around forests. We don’t have a bearing on where the enemies are, where they’re coming from, where our SEALs are going, and where they’re getting shot from. The majority of the film is a cacophony of faces, cuts, breaks, and bullet holes via practical special effects and lots and lots of squibs. And, at least twice, a small rock manages to protect a random SEAL from a rocket blast, because, you know, explosions don’t have a blast radius or an area of effect…
These guys shouldn’t be able to walk, let alone run, fall down two rocky hills, and kill several Taliban in the process. It’s entirely, grossly unrealistic.
Lone Survivor is a terrible film. It’s exceptionally inept in the realism department, the guns and physics department, the human anatomy department, the cinematography department, the screenplay department, and the making sense department. And to insult the families of the actual deceased more so, 19 SEALs were killed throughout the failed mission because at a later point in the film, a Taliban soldier shoots down a helicopter by sniping it with a rocket from afar, and it’s all due to Lieutenant Murphy’s initial dumb decision.
I kind of hate this film. I didn’t care for any of the characters because superfluous back-stories were shoved down our throats, removing the sense of realism from the situation that’s to come; I couldn’t tell what the heck was going on during the firefights; the third act is just as dumb as Lieutenant Murphy’s early decision to let the Taliban snitches go free; and the film doesn’t have anything to say aside from the fact that the human body is very, very fragile. There is no message to be read, no catharsis to be felt. Lone Survivor is just a “men on a mission” type film, except that it all goes sour due to human stupidity and is followed by a bloody, overlong aftermath, and is an empty experience.
I felt insulted by the film on many levels, and I’ve never even served in any army faction. As a filmgoer, I was initially bored and then I felt terribly annoyed. And when the film had finished I felt angry and wished that I hadn’t watched it. I don’t recommend a theatrical viewing and I don’t recommend a home viewing. I don’t recommend this film be viewed by anyone who wants to watch a good film. This isn’t even a good “bad” film. This film just sucks.