The title Lone Survivor is a spoiler and, wisely, the movie takes that into account.
Based on a true story, the film opens with efforts to rescue a bloody, battered Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg). Then, we backtrack three days to when he and three fellow Navy SEALs (played by Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster and Emile Hirsch) are being sent to a mountain in Afghanistan, where they will spend tense hours in eerie quiet, followed by intense hours as they are surrounded and attacked by Taliban gunmen.
The combat scene, which must last about 45 minutes, is the centerpiece of Lone Survivor. Brutal and up-close, the stand-off is designed to come as near as possible to showing us what it was like to be in that horrible place. The idea is to help us understand the combination of courage, daring and band-of-brothers friendship required to put the four men in that situation, and the combination of bad luck and dicey choices that escalate it.
The actors are convincing and distinctive, but Lone Survivor is a director's movie. Whether it's a moment of hand-to-hand combat or a prolonged shot of one of the SEALs falling, face-first, down a craggy mountain, director Peter Berg makes it all feel bone-crackingly visceral. That fall, in particular, is a marvel of sound design and high-impact editing.
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The movie wants us to appreciate the arduousness of the battle and the humanity of subsequent events, when Luttrell is found and hidden by residents of a tiny Afghan village. As in the recent Captain Phillips, Lone Survivor is largely concerned with the violent behavior of desperate people but, also as in Captain Phillips, it's the moments of kindness that register most strongly and that stick with you after the movie ends.
The politics of Lone Survivor are murky — as, perhaps, were the politics of the men fighting with Luttrell. But what comes through loud and clear is the movie's tribute to the combination of skills required by the people who fight our wars and its frightening recognition that, when decisions must be made in a split-second in a land where you do not speak the language or understand the customs, it is virtually impossible to tell friend from foe.
R for strong bloody war violence and pervasive language. Universal. 1:58. Fayette Mall, Frankfort, Georgetown, Hamburg, Movie Tavern, Nicholasville, Richmond, Winchester, Woodhill.