In this adaptation of Marcus Luttrell’s memoir, four Navy SEALs are sent out on “Operation Red Wings,” in which they must locate and kill Taliban leader Ahmad Shah. The four SEALs, played by Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, and Ben Foster, begin facing problems early on in their mission and continue to do so for the entirety of the film. Peter Berg’s dramatization of Luttrell’s account follows the brotherly bond between the SEALs, and how they connect with each other before and during the operation.
Lone Survivor is written and directed quite well. Berg has read Luttrell’s memoir very thoroughly and his respect and admiration for the SEALs comes through on screen. The cast all deliver emotional and realistic performances. Foster and Wahlberg in particular are great as they portray the struggle to stay humorous for the sake of one’s team in a frustrating and fearful situation.
One of Berg’s main goals in the film is evidently to humanize the Navy SEALs and the inhabitants of Afghanistan. The first part of the film focuses on the playful bonds between the SEALs. They are portrayed as men who care about each other deeply and will look out for each other, whether during an operation or in everyday life. Furthermore, relationships with wives and girlfriends are constantly mentioned throughout the film, including at moments within the operation itself.
While Ahmad Shah is portrayed as a ruthless “bad guy,” Berg does his best to not politicize the film. Lone Survivor is (mercifully) not about evil Taliban vs. wholesome Americans; instead, it is a film primarily about brotherly bonds and loss.
While these attempts to humanize the SEALs is admirable, there is ultimately so much violence in Lone Survivor that this is what audiences might be left with. Granted, it is a film about war, and sugarcoating the horrors of the situation would detract from the realism of the project. The film seems to follow a trajectory of violence. It gets progressively more gruesome as the audience is confronted by one violent shock after another. In this way, it is quite powerful and memorable; however, the downside is that the majority of the film seems like one long battle sequence. While this is not the most effective narrative arc for a film, this may be Berg’s way of staying true to Luttrell’s experiences.