Adapted from the memoirs of former SEAL Marcus Luttrell (played here by Mark Wahlberg), "Lone Survivor" recreates an ill-fated 2005 mission to take down a high-ranking Taliban target that went south for a team of four Navy SEALs, leading to a firefight that Luttrell alone was lucky enough to survive (in total, 19 soldiers were lost in the ensuing skirmish). And while director Peter Berg's tense and tragic war movie has some hefty competition for both awards and audiences this month, "Lone Survivor" shouldn't be missed. Here's why.
1. It's not "Battleship."
Forget the fact that Berg's much-maligned last movie wasn't quite as bad as its instant punchline status might lead you to believe -- because it was still pretty bad. Or the fact that it actually does have a few things in common with "Lone Survivor," like working in a couple shots of Taylor Kitsch shirtless, which might as well be a directorial trademark for Berg at this point. Both films are adapted from pre-existing properties, but the first-hand account of an ex-SEAL makes a lot more sense as a movie than a board game featuring dueling plastic pegs. And while Berg continues to focus on the military, it's in service of a thrilling and, most importantly, realistic story, not one about Rihanna saving the world from aliens. Or in other words, when there are laughs in "Lone Survivor," this time they're actually intentional.
2. It could help you win your Oscar pool.
If you've ever watched the Oscar telecast and wondered what the hell sound mixing and/or sound editing are, just watch "Lone Survivor," because the film's sound design is truly incredible. You don't just hear every cracked bone and crunched vertebrae as the team hurls themselves down the rocky Afghan cliffs, you practically feel it. And that's just the kind of insider info you could use to dominate your office Oscar pool this February.
3. Spoilers don't matter.
There's no spoiler alerts necessary here; in case you couldn't already tell from the title and marketing, the first scene of the movie shows Wahlberg's Luttrell being airlifted to safety as the title survivor. But that lack of suspense doesn't make Berg's retelling any less tense. Instead, it only adds to the film's exponentially mounting sense of dread. After an opening montage of actual SEAL training and briefly setting up the main characters back at the base, Berg gets right into the action, and from the minute the mission is first compromised, "Lone Survivor" is fraught with armrest-gripping tension. The key is character development: you know how things are going to end for these guys, but that doesn't make watching it play out any less painful.
4. Berg put together a great team.
Like any war movie worth its stripes, "Lone Survivor" is all about the bond between its band of brothers. And when it comes to casting, there isn't a weak link in the bunch here. Besides Wahlberg and Kitsch (who plays team leader Michael Murphy), the group's rounded out by Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster, and the four have great chemistry. No one put themselves ahead of the team either, as Wahlberg, Kitsch and Berg all took hefty pay cuts to ensure the movie came together, and it pays off in the finished product. It's difficult to make a war movie that isn't even a little jingoistic, but "Lone Survivor" is a respectful tribute not just to the men themselves, but the fraternity they shared.
5. Your own problems won't seem as big afterwards.
The second half of "Lone Survivor" is essentially one long firefight, with only a few brief breaks to let the actors and the audience catch their breath. The movie isn't exactly subtle about its themes either; this is a film about pushing past your limits. Lost a few fingers? Suck it up. Shot multiple times? Rub some dirt on it. "Lone Survivor" is unflinchingly graphic (Berg reportedly even went into the autopsy reports to ensure the number and placement of the soldiers' wounds are accurate), and its relentless action scenes are legitimately harrowing. All of that makes Berg's film hard to watch at times, and given the subject matter, it should be. That doesn't mean you should look away though.
"Lone Survivor" opens on Friday, January 10.