With all the talk about fact-based films and how accurate they should or shouldn’t be, it’s worth noting that some stories are best brought to screen as simply and purely as possible.
This is especially true with a film like “Lone Survivor,” Peter Berg’s expertly rendered account of a disastrous 2005 military operation in Afghanistan. War is messy, and politics are messy. But Berg has wisely chosen to focus pretty squarely on the action, and to present it as straightforwardly as possible.
And he’s executed that approach with admirable skill, down to using autopsy reports to get the number of wounds a soldier suffered exactly right. “Lone Survivor” doesn’t have nearly the sweep of a major war film like Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan.” But the action scenes — basically, one protracted, harrowing firefight — feel as realistic as any we’ve seen on the screen for some time.
That firefight, for those unfamiliar with the story (Berg also penned the screenplay, based on the memoir by former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell), took place on June 28, 2005 in the craggy mountains of Afghanistan’s Kunar province. As part of Operation Red Wings, Luttrell and three fellow SEALS were positioned on a hillside, tracking a Taliban commander in the village below, when they suddenly encountered a few local shepherds. Their agonized decision on what to do with those shepherds, one of them a teenager, led to a string of events that ultimately resulted in 19 American deaths.
Of course, the title, “Lone Survivor,” and the fact that Luttrell is played by the movie’s star (Mark Wahlberg, in a strong and moving performance) tells you much of what’s going to happen from the get-go. But that doesn’t hurt the film’s immediacy and power. In fact, you may have a hard time sitting still.