Set during the war in Afghanistan, Lone Survivor charts the failed United States Navy SEALs mission Operation Red Wings. Four Navy Seals are sent on a covert mission to neutralise a high ranking Taliban operative. Their cover is blown when civilian goat herders cross their paths and after an act of humanity that results in the four soldiers letting them go, they soon realise that an army of heavily armed Taliban are in their wake.
The resulting ambush is an extended action scene that depicts warfare in an uncompromising and brutal manner that hasn't been seen since Saving Private Ryan. Lone Survivor lacks Ryan's character development and heart but director Peter Berg handles the action with a real technical prowess. Each bullet wound gushes with blood and has a real impact that the excellent sound design highlights with necessary force. It's no surprise that the two Oscar nods Lone Survivor's received are both for sound. Once the centerpiece battle begins, you are thrust right into the heart and it never lets up until the title's Lone Survivor (an impressively nuanced Mark Wahlberg) is taken under the hospitality of local Afghan civilians.
Peter Berg has tackled America's involvement in the middle east with 2007's The Kingdom staring Jamie Foxx. Again, the action sequences were technically astounding but were gung-ho exercises in flag waving patriotism that Team America satirised. His latest foray ditches the flag waving and instead concentrates on the effect of close quarters combat on soldiers. Some critics have bogged themselves down exploring Lone Survivor's politics to which I feel they're wasting their time. Yes, you have an opening credit sequence which amounts to obvious propaganda and an unfortunately misjudged and sanctimonious use of a cover version of David Bowie's Heroes. But that aside, Lone Survivor is about the bravery and brotherhood that exists with our soldiers fighting in a war they should never be a part of. The film is vivid in its detail of bloodshed and injury with a particular emphasis on the final moments in a soldiers life which gives Lone Survivor an grittier edge than most modern war films.
I was surprised by how tough Lone Survivor turned about to be to watch, but Peter Berg has bravely dramatised a gritty and nasty account of close quarters fighting. Despite some tonal inconsistencies, Lone Survivor remains a war film which refreshingly paints a grim depiction of modern warfare. War porn this is not.