Lone Survivor Review

Posted: January 11, 2014 by pecknt in Peck Reviews

55479c55ebd1efd3ff125f1337100388_originalReviewed by: Nathanael Peck

*Contains light spoilers, nothing not ruined by trailers*

War films often struggle with finding an identity in the material they are adapting. They might be too technical, offering details, and situations that ruin the film of emotional substance.  They might just be too emotional, forgoing any sense of logic for the purpose of emotionally sucking you in. They could forgo both to tell a story for entertainment, using action set pieces and spectacle for your attention. Rarely does a film capture these elements so well, with the last film in my opinion being Saving Private Ryan. Saving Private Ryan elegantly walked a fine line between telling a story, paying respects to the military, respecting technical elements and keeping the audiences’ eyes glued. This brings me to Peter Berg’s Lone Survivor. Berg in the past has been the epitome of inconsistencies. Battleship, Hancock, Friday Night Lights, The Kingdom and The Rundown properly illustrate these inconsistencies, often aiming for flash over substance. His desire to set up drastic set pieces, and up tempo story telling often time unravel into bloated messes (Battleship and Hancock). Lone Survivor is Peter Berg’s first major step into telling a story, using characters, and their development to emotionally attach you to a real event. In retrospect, Lone Survivor is engaging, heroic, entertaining and emotionally satisfying war pic.

Lone Survivor tells the true story of SEAL team 10 in a failed operation to capture a Taliban leader during the War in Afghanistan. Real life SEALs Marcus Lutrell (Mark Walhberg), Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch), and Matthew Axelson (Ben Foster) are sent on a recon mission, scouting out a ruthless Taliban leader responsible for the death of dozens of Marines. The mission despite its stealth like elements goes very wrong, turning into an all-out gunfight; a large four hour (in real life, not movie) battle between dozens of Taliban soldiers. The film does not shy away from brutality, or action violence, with heroic figures like the above mentioned being horribly wounded from gun shots and tremendous falls. Despite a few eye rolling, action esque moments, Peter Berg stays true to the events, putting the heroes into their real life situations, and unfortunately failing. As soon as the movie starts, you are fully aware of the acts to come, and none of that stops it from being incredibly unsettling and engaging. Each SEAL heroically has their exit, displaying what makes their actions worthy of the valor they acclaim.

Peter Berg, not necessarily known for capturing the best in his actors, does the exact opposite in this film. It is entirely clear from the beginning moments of this film that this is Berg’s pet project. Each shot; each character dialogue bit is treated with absolute care, attention and heart. These actors shine with every moment of screen time, mostly Mark Wahlberg and Ben Foster. I would feel comfortable with saying that this is the best performance from these two in their career, a feat impressive for veteran actor Mark Walhberg (who even goes on record as saying this is his best personal performance). The camaraderie between the SEAL team makes for heartfelt moments that accurately expresses the brotherhood between these warriors. You do not need previous events, or scenes to show the love and affection, but rather the way they treat each other in combat situations. It’s this maturity and attention to detail that Peter Berg has NEVER shown in a film, until now. Perhaps the biggest surprise to me in this film was Taylor Kitsch, and his performance as the Medal of Honor winner Michael Murphy. His acts of courage and bravery are incredible, as he attempts to save his men, while giving his own life. Again, while all this is entirely obvious from the beginning, it does not stop it from being an emotional weight. Kitsch operates the role with a poise and settling confidence that is distinctive from previous roles.

The closest comparison Lone Survivor can be made is to last year’s Zero Dark Thirty. Kathryn Bigelow’s film shows exuberate amounts of technical detail, both in cinematography, and military technical specifications. However, while all this is incredible in its own right, Zero Dark Thirty lacked emotional punch. Bigelow’s film plays more like a technical manual written by Tom Clancy, than anything else. That is perhaps the most impressive feat of Lone Survivor, as it intricately weaves realism and emotional elements seamlessly. Sure, there is one or two unnecessary slow motion shots, some supporting characters do not get their dues, and the battle can feel action flick-ish at times. This aside, Lone Survivor, is more satisfying, more rewarding and more emotionally heart wrenching than Zero Dark Thirty. Lone Survivor avoids mishap and is perhaps one of the more surprising films of the year, with great performances, solid action set pieces, and notable direction. Go see it!


  1. CMrok93 says:

    Good review Nathanael. It wasn’t as preachy as I expected it to be, which is a huge surprise considering this is from Peter Berg. However though, he shows that he’s capable at telling a story the way it was, without much manipulation added to the full-proceedings.

    • pecknt says:

      Agreed. I thought, being that it was an American film, that there would be overbearing USA overtones. Surprisingly, like The Kingdom, it was handled rather freshly and very even. Including the family that saved Marcus at the end was a brilliant job by Berg and co. The idea of keeping Marcus, the military and advisers on this film kept it rather accurate, and therefore, more emotionally engaging .

  2. Thought about watching this today. Nice review, Nathanael. Think I will check it out!

    • pecknt says:

      Thank you, Cindy. I suggest watching it. If my review does not stand up to your initial watch, you will AT LEAST be entertained by this film.

  3. moviebuff801 says:

    Good review, Nate. Though, personally, I think it’ll be hard for this film to top Zero Dark Thirty since I found that to be the Best Film of 2012.

    • pecknt says:

      Rightly so. My review might becoming out of hyperbole, but even speaking, one can NOT deny the fact that Zero Dark Thirty is a technical brilliance. Bigelow is a genius, and her films are all beautifully shot, well done and well captured. I just felt more engaged here, and that’s something that will not be the same for everyone. I can completely understand the differences for everyone, and is something I did not entirely address in my review. That being said, all reviews are opinion pieces, so I was hoping most would bare in mind that this is strictly my opinion, and everyone should express their own. I’m not sure if you’d like Lone Survivor, Mike. Who knows, give it a try? :)

  4. i really couldn’t get behind this film at all. i thought it was all action and no heart. very very flat for me. i also felt in many areas that it was lazy in its storytelling and made a complex story very hollow. very disappointing.

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