Lone Survivor Blu-ray Review: Combat Involved
Lone Survivor was one of the last movies I saw last year, and just in time to add it to my top 12 list for the year. I generally feel war movies are inherent drama. I wish the war hadn’t happened, yet since it did I think it’s important to tell the stories of the people who fought it on the ground. By experiencing the drama of the everyday situations our troops face, we clarify the abstraction of combat that’s often distilled to soundbites and headlines. I’m actually surprised Hollywood can single out stories for the occasional war movie when drama like this happens everyday.
The title is a spoiler, so even if you don’t know the true story, you can imagine how Operation Red Wings turns out. Four Navy SEALs – Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Dannie Dietz (Emile Hirsch) and Matt Axelson (Ben Foster) – were sent into the mountains of Afghanistan for reconnaissance on an insurgent leader. They were ambushed and only Luttrell survived. He wrote the book on which the film is based. Even though you do know the ending, the film creates suspense and keeps you worried for each of the men on the mountain.
Screenwriter and director Peter Berg constructs a harrowing portrayal of the ambush and extended firefight with clear geography and sound design. It’s funny, he pioneered the handheld style of shooting I always hated, back on Friday Night Lights, but now I recognize he’s actually using shakycam to show us something. When his camera jerks, it’s to reveal something in a new location in the frame. It’s not just jerking around to artificially construct excitement.
The film does a good job of establishing the SEAL team’s camaraderie before the mission. It’s macho, but I’m betting it’s extremely sanitized compared to how real SEALs talk. Human beings go pretty extreme when faced with extreme situations and decreasing odds of survival. I think the film portrays it sensitively, acknowledging the true characters and showing how they work as an effective unit, while reining it in somewhat so that it’s not too in your face.
It would be a gross cliché to say that the film makes us feel what it must be like to be in a combat situation. I don’t think the filmmakers would presume to say that either. What Lone Survivor does do is illustrate a combat situation viscerally and emotionally. That is a valuable step in a conversation, but it doesn’t have to be a public conversation. It can just be internal within the viewer. And it can just be a dramatic experience because it is a well made movie that makes a horrible situation compelling.
The movie looks gorgeous on Blu-ray. The beauty is bittersweet given the violence that occurs there, but since Lone Survivor takes place in the mountainous region of Afghanistan, we see the sharp ridges and lush forest in high definition, even if it is recreated in New Mexico.
The bonus features are all very respectful with regards to the real incidents. Many are centered around Luttrell, Michael Murphy, Danny Dietz and Matt Axelson. What can you do? Real people died in the story they’re telling, so that’s who the bonus features are about, although they do remind you that both Friday Night Lights and The Kingdom are also available on Blu-ray. Not Battleship though. That would be crass.
I’m not entirely sure why I feel the pressure to contextualize my appreciation of Lone Survivor. There have been plenty of true stories that I take simply on a narrative level. There is a bit of a personal relationship I am having with the war, and that makes me inclined to deal with it dramatically, as a viewer. I greatly appreciated Lone Survivor and am happy to recommend it without any baggage, just to experience it as a film.