I am sitting here watching Lone Survivor, prior to its theatrical release. I managed to get my hands on an advance copy of the movie. Therefore, I am able to write a real-time review because I can pause it whenever I want. Like right now.
Before I get started, I want to say two things:
1. Go see this movie. But I wouldn’t recommend bring your underage sons to see it. (Yes, I know it’s rated-R, so theoretically, the kids couldn’t get in, but we all know there are ways around that.)
2. Spoilers are ahead. You’ve been warned.
***This review will not spoil anything for those who already know the story of Operation Red Wings and/or someone who has read Marcus Luttrell’s book Lone Survivor,off of which this movie is based. That said, if you don’t know much about Marcus’ story, I’d advise you to stop reading. Continue at your own risk***
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story of Operation Red Wings, it is centered around a SEAL mission in Afghanistan that went bad when the SEALs let some passing shepherds go instead of detaining or killing them. These shepherds then went and told the Taliban the location of the SEAL team, and then all hell broke loose.
I’m 35 minutes in and the shepherds are passing by, and even though I know that the shepherds are about to turn and see the team, I’m sitting here cringing and desperately hoping that they will not.
Annnnnnd they just did. Crap.
I wasn’t there. I can’t judge them on what they did. But given how the shepherds are portrayed here, I’d have to say that I would have killed them. The old man has an ICOM for talking to the Taliban and the teenager has serious disdain for the SEALs and just tried to run away screaming to alert the Taliban in the town. The only “innocent” here is the child, but if you kill the other two, you have to kill the child as well. Not only would he give away the position anyways, but he would grow up to hate the Americans for killing his older brother and grandfather.
Granted, hindsight is always 20/20, and that is the only way I can possibly view this, but I think a little evil would have been the correct answer here. Correction: a little evil would have been the least-bad decision in the long run. This entire situation is a sh*t-sandwich without the bread.
And now they’re talking about maybe killing the “shepherds” and I’m just begging them to. I haven’t been this emotionally attached to a movie in a long time. Axelson has right answer. Kill them and f*ck the rules of engagement. “That isn’t a kid. That’s a soldier… That’s a warrior. Schwack him.” But when the LT makes it clear that they are going to cut the “shepherds” loose, Axelson, Dietz and Luttrell all immediately say, “Roger, sir,” and make the mission happen. No more debate. No more discussion. Good stuff.
And now I’m watching this little bastard run down the mountain to go tell the Taliban the location of the SEAL team and all I can think of is, “You shoulda killed him.”
The guys are sitting there waiting for the Taliban and I can barely breathe. It’s that tense.
And. Here. We. Go.
I’ve never worked with the SEALs, but the gunfight seems pretty legit. I know that Marcus Luttrell (and other SEALs) were heavily involved in the making of Lone Survivor, even to the point of Marcus (and a number of other SEALs) making cameos at the beginning of the movie. Between those facts and my own modest involvement in direct-fire engagements, I have to believe that this is pretty legit.
As with all movies, the sound of non-suppressed M4/M16 family of weapons is deeper than it is in real-life, but that is rather easily overlooked. Also, the surroundings (a heavily-wooded hillside with plenty of a rocky-outcroppings) could change the sound somewhat.
Everyone’s shot, and they all react with the same reaction I would expect I would have if I had been wounded in my time overseas: determination fueled by rage that “These motherf*ckers actually f*cking shot me! What the f*ck!” Every time we got shot at, that was always my reaction.
Murphy is leaving his guys to get comms with command and I’m severely overcome with emotion.
At this point, Axelson seems to have come to the conclusion that they are going to go out in a blaze of glory, and he just said, “I am the Reaper.” Holy wow, to have the kind of courage.
Ok, now a got a major f*cking problem with this movie. Matt Axelson went out in a blaze of glory, but as he is sitting there, leaning against a tree, out of ammo, slowly drowning in his blood that is filling up his lungs, the Taliban take three shots at him, with the third one graphically hitting him in the head and snuffing the life from him. Why in the f*ck would you show that? The labored breathing was bad enough and, in the interests of realism and the intent to portray the courage and persistence of the SEALs, I can understand that. But was it seriously necessary to slowly show what amounts to a headshot execution of Matt Axelson? I’m stone-cold sober and I am seriously f*cking pissed off right now.
There was so much lead-up time to the actual headshot that I thought they were going to just show something in shadow or extra blurry. Nope. Instead, I just saw one of the most graphic headshots I have ever seen in a movie and unquestionably the most graphic on-screen headshot I have ever seen of a “good guy.” Seriously, was that f*cking necessary? I seriously doubt it. Families and friends are going to see this movie. The makers of Lone Survivor could have done that particular piece of camera work differently. It was hard for me to watch it and I have zero affiliation with this movie other than the SEALs portrayed are my brothers-in-arms and I got to play OPFOR for SEAL Team Two in back in 2003. There was no f*cking reason that that particular piece of camerawork needed to be like that. That was a f*cking disgrace.
And continuing my review, it seems a little suspicious that the Afghan villager helping Marcus seems to know exactly where they are on a tactical map that he has never seen before when Marcus shows it to him. This guy has never left the ground and has no idea what the terrain would look like from the air. Conversely, it is possible that the Afghan is just really smart and figured it out through terrain association and the fact that he has lived there his whole life and he knows that terrain. Chances that he didn’t figure it out in three seconds either and that his figuring it out was truncated for the sake of brevity.
I do like the fact that there are no subtitles. Marcus didn’t like what was going on. Neither do we. They only kick in the subtitles when it is absolutely necessary in order for the audience to understand a major plot point.
It is refreshing to see that there are some good Afghans portrayed here. Not everyone there was bad, but after a tour there and a tour in Iraq, it was/is hard for me to see a difference. There is a brief moment of levity when the language barrier gets in the way of communication and this helps to humanize the villagers, as does the scene with them making preparations to defend their village against the Taliban. According to “Nanawatai,” a tenet of the Pashtunwali code of the Pashtun people, sanctuary must be given to one who requests it. And the host must be willing to fight and/or die for the sake of the person being protected. This tenet is demonstrated to a T in Lone Survivor and is, quite frankly, the only reason Marcus survived.
The Apaches and AC-130 just showed up and I have a serious chill going up my leg.
The ending is fitting, and they showed a number of pictures of the men who died with Peter Gabriel’s cover of “Heroes” playing in the background. I am about ready to break down and cry. Give me a minute.
At the very end of the movie, there is a three-sentence note about Pashtunwali. I just want to point out that I had already written the above paragraphs before I saw that.
The very last thing you see before the credits roll is a picture of Marcus and the Afghan villager, Mohammed Gulab, who protected him reunited in 2010. It does not say where the photo was taken.
I did not see a single action sequence that was outside of the realm of possibility. The Army room-clearing procedures seemed really lame at the end, but nothing was hokey or Hollywood-ized at all.
I read Marcus’ book long before I watched the movie. Yes, there is some controversy surrounding Marcus’ account of events. The only one who truly knows what happened is Marcus. I was not there. I cannot make a judgment call. It seems to me that there was just nothing else that Marcus could possibly have done. And, had I been there, I have to say that I probably would have done what he did.
As far as a straight movie goes, I have to give this an “A-.” Lone Survivor is not an epic movie, but then again, it was not designed to be. It is a story, and superbly told one. If I had one caveat to point out, I don’t think that casting Taylor Kitsch as LT Michael Murphy was a good idea. He just seemed a little wooden and I’d give him about a B. Ben Foster’s role as Matt Axelson gets an A+, Mark Wahlberg as Marcus Luttrell gets an A, and Emile Hirsch as Danny Dietz gets a solid B+.
The only thing that keeps Lone Survivor from being a solid A or even an A+ is that one scene that pissed me the hell off earlier involving the portrayal of the death of Matt Axelson. I am not going to rehash that here.
Solid, solid movie. Well done. I highly recommend it. Keep in mind that this movie is not for the faint of heart. It deserves its R-rating. I only point this out because some will want their underage sons to watch this. I would not recommend this, as it could be a little “too real” for them. Granted, I don’t have any children, and this is just my personal opinion.
That said, go see Lone Survivor. It is well worth twice the price of admission.