While it is far from great, Lone Survivor is also far from bad.
It works mostly thanks to an earnest tone, set from the first moments, wherein we see Marcus Luttrell’s (Mark Wahlberg) wounded, largely broken body being carted around by United States medics. We instantly know Marcus will be the titular survivor, but we also know he will suffer untold physical harm. That knowledge hangs over us and the film, creating a sense of urgency.
In other hands, giving away the movie’s resolution so early might prove unrecoverable, but in Writer/Director Peter Berg’s it works.
Most of the cast is steady, finding their characters’ inner strength and determination.
Every actor is outdone by Ben Foster as Matthew Axelson. Foster captures Axes’s will to survive, his patriotism and his resolve to serve his brothers. Axe is the only character who feels layered, but it is not because the screenplay develops him better than the rest. It’s because the actor playing him rises above the material he’s given.
Lone Survivor’s biggest weakness is character development. None of these characters are written with depth, even though they are based on actual people. Because Berg doesn’t invest in characters, he fails to generate our emotional connection.
And winds up rendering Lone Survivor overly sentimental.
Moreover, the first act is slowly paced, taking too long introducing characters Berg never develops anyway.
Still, this is not a bad film. Far from it. The action sequences evoke the viewer’s awe as well as our respect for the soldiers’ physical endurance and mental resolve.
They also strike the proper balance between excitement and discomfort, making sure to avoid glorifying battles that resulted in the deaths of many, both United States and Taliban soldiers alike.
The battles are not perfect, however. They are shot, edited and lit such that tracking events often proves difficult. Frequently, I was not even certain which US soldier I was watching. Plus, they rely too much on awkward slow motion.
That said, Berg opts to show pictures of the real-life fallen soldiers before the final credits roll. In so doing, he adds gravitas and meaning to the movie’s conclusion.
As he does by respectfully dramatizing Afghanis who risked their lives to help Luttrell.
Even if his pre-credit explanation for their involvement might be too simplistic.
Lone Survivor has many merits, but thinly developed characters, uneven pacing and choppy construction of battle sequences hold it back.