Director: Peter Berg
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster
Watch Lone Survivor online in the UK: Netflix UK / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Sky Store
At the end of Peter Berg’s Lone Survivor, a familiar sound appears: David Bowie’s Heroes, sung in slow motion by an acoustic American, as photos of the real soldiers upon whom the war movie is based flash across the screen. It’s a moment that sticks in the throat, partly because nobody should ever be allowed to cover David Bowie’s Heroes, and partly because it feels like a mawkish end to a decidedly unmawkish film.
Lone Survivor has been the subject of much debate, with some labelling it as pro-war, but when it comes to the conflict, Berg is brutal: handhelds, sharp cuts, deafening noises. When a team of Navy SEALs, led by Marcus Luttrell (Wahlberg), find themselves surrounded in the Afghanistan mountains, they run through the woods and fall off cliffs with sickening realism – you feel every blow.
It’s a superbly directed and edited bout of action, one that grips and terrifies in equal measure. This isn’t a gung-ho thriller. This, you imagine, is what war is actually like on the ground. Every time you think the group are safe, another thing goes wrong. The message is clear: the cavalry aren’t coming.
Berg’s brains don’t stop there, though: we have to wait for 20 minutes before we’re stranded in the field. Marcus and his band of brothers are introduced in a slow first act with all the usual broad clichés But Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster bring a surprising depth to their roles. In fact, we spend more time getting to know them than Wahlberg’s titular last man standing; as a result, when they get injured, it means something. We’re not just in the same physical shoes as Marcus, but emotional too. Accompanied by a rousing rock score from Explosions in the Sky, the team’s push to stay alive in the face of ever-stacked odds becomes an inspiration as much as an ordeal – a tribute to the real life men who fell in battle in Operation Red Wings.
Then along comes Bowie. Tipping the balance into schmaltz, it’s a heavy-handed conclusion to an intentionally un-heavy-handed film – a moment that may play well to patriotic American audiences, but in the UK risks throwing the whole movie into we-love-the-military sentiment. Peter Berg’s movie isn’t a pro-war film or an anti-war film: it’s a film about war. And a good one at that. But if you’re going to rent or download it, stop playing before the end credits. The whole endeavour will seem much more heroic.
Lone Survivor is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
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