Lone Survivor

Jan 8, 2014

It's rough out there!

Lone Survivor

Grade: B+

Director: Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights)

Screenplay: Berg from Marcus Luttrell/Patrick Robinson book

Cast: Mark Wahlberg (The Fighter), Taylor Kitsch (John Carter)

Rating: R

Runtime: 121 min

by John DeSando

“That's who my son was. That's how hard he fought. Make sure you get that right.” Danny Dietz’s (Emile Hirsch) father

We know from the beginning and the title, Lone Survivor, that Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg) is the only one to make it out from ill-fated Afghanistan mission, Operation Redwings, in 2005. Three of the four SEALs die in an ambush.  Knowing how it will turn out does not diminish the impact of this powerful docudrama, in which the ambiguities and allegiances of that conflict are knowingly and realistically disclosed.

Sure, some of the clichés from WWII combat movies are still alive and kicking such as the obligatory back stories about families, loves, and horses, all laid out in the first half hour to add the human touch.  The film succeeds in connecting us, perhaps because it does not overdo the sentimentality or the background music. The scenes of SEAL training are also a part of the genre but appropriate for verifying the four as fighting machines.

When Lone Survivor gets to the mission to eventually assassinate the infamous Taliban leader Ahmad Shahd, it is meticulous with the details of the special-forces movements and machinery. When the ambush of the SEALs begins in full, the gradual degradation of the situation for the vastly outnumbered Seals seems authentic if not overdone in the large number of Afghans the SEALs kill.

The interesting question about this type of war film is whether or not it’s all about the stars who play the real-life heroes. Although Mark Wahlberg can’t hide his cinematic persona, his role is much more than preening because his part shows best the need for a brotherhood to develop to survive in the field. Wahlberg succeeds making us sympathize with him as a caring soldier, not just a movie star.

At the early planning stage, Matt “Axe’ Axelson (Ben Foster) remarks there are “a lot of moving parts” to the military planning. With the failure of communications and Apache helicopter backup, his comment is a death knell, and not just because of the rugged terrain (New Mexico) or unreliable locals. As a metaphor for the arguable merits of the Afghanistan invasion,  Lone Survivor completes its mission. As a recruitment vehicle for Navy SEALs, not so much.  It’s too rough out there. 

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at