Lone Survivor tells the true account of Operation Red Wings, a failed SEAL Team 10 mission that sent four SEALS into Afghanistan to capture or kill a Taliban leader in June 2005. The movie is based on the book of the same name, which was written by the mission’s only survivor, Marcus Luttrell.
I went into this movie with high hopes that maybe Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights, The Kingdom) would bounce back from Battleship with a thrilling and heartfelt military action movie. I expected a story of personal growth in the face of harrowing circumstances. What I got was a somewhat lopsided, jingoistic experience of questionable authenticity.
If you view it solely as an action movie, Lone Survivor is pretty good, if slightly clichéd. The suspense of the mission and the action scenes after things go awry are played well, with very striking makeup effects. However, the comic relief was a little flat and the scenes of SEAL bonding didn’t really emphasize the brotherhood that was needed for the tragic scenes later to really pay off.
Like many other military action movies, Lone Survivor takes a very strong pro-military, jingoistic approach in its storytelling. Characters go out of their way to spout their hatred of the Taliban to the point where it actually almost comes across as propaganda. Why does anyone at this point need convincing that the Taliban are dicks?
Perhaps my biggest concern with the movie was that Marcus Luttrell doesn’t seem to undergo much of an emotional journey. He goes through a rigorous physical ordeal but his survival doesn’t change him in any significant way. There’s a flimsy point to be made that he becomes less bigoted toward Muslims, but it’s not enough to be the focal point of the movie. It really makes me wonder what the film’s purpose was, considering there was only light emphasis on the SEALs who died and their personal lives.
I can’t help but compare Lone Survivor in a negative light to Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours. Boyle took a story about human survival and delivered an emotionally gripping narrative with a clear theme and impeccable insight into his protagonist.
Whereas Peter Berg has taken a story of heroism and tragedy and created a peculiar, unfocused movie about elite soldiers in the mighty United States military. It’s a storytelling choice that ultimately works against him as we leave the theater wanting more.
Before I watched the movie, I had heard some whispers that Luttrell’s account wasn’t entirely accurate. Some claimed it might have been almost entirely fabricated. I didn’t know any of the specifics about what happened and so I went into the movie as blind as possible.
When Explosions in the Sky’s (albeit beautiful) score began playing over video footage of SEALS training, I felt at ease. It wasn’t until around the time the operation got underway that I began to feel uneasy. Some of the situations in the movie between Luttrell and his team just didn’t mesh well with me. I may have gone in with preconceived notions, but I still expected to form an emotional connection and buy the story being told. Alas, I couldn’t really buy what I was seeing.
For instance, there’s a scene where the team is discussing what to do about the unarmed civilians that stumble upon them. They debate what the best course of action would be. Simply put, it feels like the infighting the movie depicts is extraordinarily “Hollywood-ized” and isn’t something that seems like it really happened.
Not only that, the scene feels disingenuous as Marcus Luttrell seems to be the only team member who’s shown as compassionate. I don’t know anything about Luttrell as a person outside of Lone Survivor, so I can’t speak to his character; I just felt it was odd and suspicious that he was the sole moral voice of the group.
There are also some things in the action scenes that really got to me. Specifically there were a couple “super human” feats that felt clichéd and took me out of the movie completely. Then there’s the issue of convenience in flesh wounds. I’m not an expert on warfare, but the amount of Taliban that Luttrell and his team went up against makes the amount of flesh wounds the SEALs sustained throughout the firefight nearly too lucky to be believed.
This article rips apart some of the glaring inconsistencies in the book. Inconsistencies and inaccuracies ranging from a basic lack of knowledge about the key players in the assault to getting the title of the operation and method of code-naming completely wrong are scattered throughout the book, apparently. It’s an interesting read that may shed light on the strange feeling I had throughout the movie.
It’s unclear what the full story is. It’s possible that Lone Survivor is completely factually accurate and Luttrell just needs a new editor, or there could be something more to all of it. The bottom line is whether it was Luttrell or Berg, one or both of these writers dropped the ball and Lone Survivor suffered for it.