Lone Survivor (2013)

(On Cable TV, November 2014)  It may or may not be interesting to note how many relatively-recent American war movies (The Alamo, Black Hawk Down, etc.) have been about disastrous engagements with high casualties.  Lone Survivor follows in that tradition by following a minor Afghanistan operation in which a team is practically exterminated in the ensuing carnage (this isn’t a spoiler: it’s in the title.)  The focus, here, is obviously on the nobility of being a warrior against terrible odds.  Lone Survivor clearly courts military-minded audiences, reassuring them that their sacrifice is necessary, that everyone involved is a hero and thus spends much of its energy nailing down the details of the fighting rather than try to make it fit in any broader context.  While that’s sure to annoy anyone with even the slightest doubts about the usefulness of the Afghan effort, it does help Lone Survivor feel quite a bit more grounded than other movies taking recent American military adventures as a springboard to overly-broad philosophical questions.  In this case, it’s clear that Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch (surprisingly credible) and Ben Foster do pretty well in bringing life to underwritten characters, and that director Peter Berg is hyper-focused on the details of his centerpiece firefight.  Even the blood spurts look realistic.  Still, Lone Survivor operates in a void of meaning.  Despite the film’s sometimes heavy-handed worship of its characters, the third act is fit to make anyone shrug: to what good the sacrifice?  As much as the film will try to claim that it’s not really interested in the wider context, it does exist in a wider context and its punishing centerpiece action sequence does frame the film as something worth showing every Veterans’ Day.  Some audiences will be satisfied by this simple quality.  Others will bemoan that Lone Survivor could have been much better.

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