Friday, January 17, 2014

Movie Review : Lone Survivor


Lone Survivor (R)
I typically don’t review films here, but since I had the rare treat of being granted access to a preview I decided to give it a try.  Enjoy.

First of all, going to a preview is just a really cool feeling, like you’re somehow privileged or special.  What it boils down to is being able to see a movie a few days before everyone else, and it is awesome. I AM IMPORTANT!

What struck me right away was the line, which was thankfully inside of the theatre on a Polar Vortex induced 9 degree evening.  Then, the security – presumably to avoid recording –which I was assured was not a newly implemented procedure at our local movie house.  We were either wanded or had our bags checked, and my wife was forced to surrender her digital camera before entry.   The crowd was pretty diverse, which I’m sure the studio desired but am not so sure that it was planned.  We got our tickets from someone else, so if there was any focus grouping used to gather specific demographic s it couldn’t have accounted for us.

Before the move started, one of the guys who was at the door (he never did identify himself, but we just assumed he worked for someone connected with the film) addressed the crowd.  Upon his reminder that this was rated R and did contain copious amounts of violence, a bunch of what sounded like twenty somethings let out some celebratory whoops.  A few assumptions I made at that moment:

1.       The whoopers were likely video gamers (think Call of Duty)

2.       The violence in this movie would not be anything like a video game

3.       We would not be cheering during said violence

So, the movie…..

It tells the true story of Operation Red Wing, which took place in Afghanistan in 2006.  The Navy SEAL team op intended to take out a Taliban leader, but encountered several obstacles along the way, to put it lightly.  Director Peter Berg does a masterful job of immersing us in the world of the SEALs right away, as actual footage of the training is shown beneath the opening credits.  The footage is so raw and visceral that it exhausted me just to watch it, and the one scene which showed a recruit being pulled out of the water, clearly traumatized, only to have the trainer tell the kid not to “go to the light yet” was terrifying.  The battle scenes draw you right in as well, making me feel like I was right there on the mountain side with them.

The first act develops the main characters, and since the title itself is a bit of a spoiler, we know that we shouldn’t get too emotionally attached to anyone not played by Mark Wahlberg.  We do anyway, and since this is based on real people we are spared the traditional Hollywood War Movie tropes of the Grizzled Cigar Chomping Sarge, Skinny Ethnic Private, etc.  (We do get one – the “tell my wife I love her” line, but since we are so invested in these guys I’ll allow it).  These are real guys, a fact that is underscored as the closing credits roll over actual pictures and footage of the men portrayed in the film, along with wives, kids, etc.   I’m not afraid to admit that it got a little dusty in the theatre during those credits.

I really enjoyed this movie, well, as much as one can actually enjoy what is a very depressing story with some nice emotional lifts near the end.  Optimism is in short supply throughout – again, the title indicates a Lone Survivor, but the story wraps up with some nice touches of humanity from some unlikely sources.  There were actual bits of humor as well, from the names given to the various checkpoints to the soldiers talking about mundane everyday things like horses and tile patterns as they prepare for an epic battle.  I walked out with a sense of relief that we have people who are willing to do this, and confirmation that I could never be one of them.  These are truly unique and special individuals to whom we owe a great deal.

By the way, when the screening was over I checked on a few younger guys seated nearby who were excited about the violence warnings prior to the show, and their general expression was more "Holy shit dude" than "Awesome!", so all three assumptions turned out to be correct.

Post script: The movie had a great opening weekend, but I was surprised at the lack of Academy Award recognition beyond sound mixing and sound editing.  Since I haven’t seen many of the nominated films, I’m not qualified to make a judgment here, but I thought this film had a decent chance to grab a Best Picture or Director nom.
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