When directors are involved in both critical and commercial flops, it’s always vital that they return with a far more accomplished film for their next project, so all eyes are on Peter Berg to see if he can successfully move on from Battleship with his latest picture Lone Survivor. And though certainly flawed in parts, there’s enough about this feature to suggest it has been a steady return for the filmmaker.
Set entirely on a true story, Marcus Luttrell, played by Mark Wahlberg, embarks on a mission named “Operation Red Wings” alongside his loyal compatriots Matt ‘Axe’ Axelson (Ben Foster), Michael Muprhy (Taylor Kitsch) and Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch). The plan is to capture an infamous and destructive Taliban leader, though when they are on the receiving end of an unsuspecting attack, they are left to fight desperately for their lives, and as the opposition grows in numbers, their chances of survival continues to decrease.
Berg manages to highlight war sufficiently, playing on the notion that in just the blink of an eye, these men could find themselves in severe, unexpected danger. The way the tone shifts in an instance is wonderfully judged, as is the fact the banter back at the camp seems like a lifetime ago. The naturalistic elements extend to the deaths too, that thankfully aren’t overstated for cinematic effect. The perpetrators are just faceless enemies, without personality. We don’t dwell on the killing or the killer himself, it just happens, and the battle then continues, shadowing the brutality of it all and the distinct futility of war.
The film’s key triumph comes in the unrelenting, uncommonly long battle sequence that lasts for the entire middle act. To keep hold of our attentions for such a long time is a commendable achievement for Berg, though regrettably for him, what prevents this title being more than just steady is what comes either side of it: as following a slow and tedious opening act, an underwhelming finale also undoes much of the good work that came before.