I couldn't help but appreciate the sheer focus of the key action sequence of “Lone Survivor.” The film opens slowly and closes poorly, but the centerpiece action sequence — it runs at least 40 minutes — is fascinating.
Director Peter Berg (“Hancock”) executes the sequence with great camera work and fluid editing. He's not afraid of long takes and he understands that shaky cameras are only effective when used minimally. It's great filmmaking — for an action movie.
But as I watched the film's four heroes scrambling to secure the low ground against a horde of Taliban members armed with machine guns, I noticed that I wasn't at all scared.
It's got one of those “Titanic” titles. It's an extremely well planned and choreographed film but it doesn't contain any real surprises. There are plenty of places where there could have been surprises — big, terrifying surprises — but the film seemed intent on giving the viewer ample warning before any potentially shocking developments.
I can't deny that “Lone Survivor” is an effective action film, but it could have been one hell of a horror movie. The four heroes may be Navy SEALs, but they're also four guys lost in the woods surrounded by a never-ending number of enemies trying to kill them. Many of the villains even use the zombie-approved attack method of running wildly toward people holding large guns.
Just the idea of having the low ground against a horde of Taliban warriors is terrifying, yet this film has the informative feel of a History Channel special. This is fitting, sadly, because “Lone Survivor” has the heart of a History Channel special.
Berg approaches the material with an obvious focus on paying respect to the SEALs, especially those who didn't make it home. It's obvious the goal was to make a loud, realistic action film where the good guys are valiant and likable, and the bad guys are mindless killing machines.
I appreciated a couple scenes where complex ethical issues were addressed, providing good discussion topics for anyone hoping to dig a little deeper. But just when I thought the film was going to dig deeper, it reverted to action movie auto-pilot mode.
The film's ensemble cast does a great job of bringing their characters to life. Ben Foster (“Pandorum”) and Emile Hirsch (“Into the Wild”) both steal scenes with subtle performances that capture the immediacy of their situation.
Mark “Marky Mark” Wahlberg was acceptable in the titular role, but the film didn't really ask much out of him.
Despite the film's many positives, I still feel underwhelmed. I think Ridley Scott covered similar ground with the fantastic “Black Hawk Down,” but understood the terror much better than Berg. He shot “Hawk” like a horror film, with unknown horrors waiting to pop out at any given moment.
“Hawk” was, frankly put, scary as hell. “Lone Survivor” could have been scary as hell, too, and I'll argue that it should have been. Any film about events this terrifying should be somewhat terrifying itself.
“Lone Survivor” is rated R for strong bloody war violence and pervasive language.