Sunday, 2 February 2014

Lone Survivor: Will it be the Actor with his Name Above the Title?

Lone Survivor tells the story of a US Navy SEAL unit on a mission into Afghanistan that goes catastrophically tits-up. I'd tell you how many of them make it out alive, but I don't want to spoil it.

Presumably, the spoileriffic title is due to the fact that the film is "BASED ON A TRUE STORY", the details of which are probably out there in easily Googlable (coined it) locations, or in the written account of the mission laid down in book form by the guy who made it out alive.

The doomed SEAL team are ably portrayed by the bearded quartet of Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch, Taylor Kitsch and Marky Mark Wahlberg, all grizzled, buffed up and no doubt boot camped into authenticity in pre-production. They're all perfectly fine, though Wahlberg's Texan accent drifts in and out of the film like a leaf on the wind.


It could be suggested that this is Writer/Director Peter Berg's apology for  Battleship, both to audiences and the US Navy. His loveletter to the noble servicemen opens with actual footage of SEAL training drills and closes with a montage of photos and footage of the soldiers who didn't return set to Peter Gabriel singing Bowie's "Heroes". What happens in between is unfortunately little more subtle and little less sentimental.

The film could have been a compelling grunt's eye view of the complications of modern warfare - overbearing rules of engagement, reliance on technology, the intrusion and influence of the 24 hour news cycle - but Berg steams past these discussions in favour of creating a modern-day 300, where the SEALs fight to the last man in a flurry of slo-mo self-sacrifice and Greg Nicotero's Walking Dead squib-splats.

It becomes less a compelling film and more an extended commercial for the Navy, fully buying into the self-mythologising attitude of this elite group of soldiers; an attitude best illustrated by the bizarre initiation ceremony for a new recruit involving the dance routine from Napoleon Dynamite and a recitation of some inane pseudo poetry about how awesome "frog men" are. It's like a cross between a college fraternity and a rugby team, but with less fun and more guns.

Berg's style is unsure and unsteady, static dialogue scenes are frantically edited while battle fluctuates jarringly between the aforementioned sentimental slo-mo and Call of Duty run-and-gun POV. He lacks the courage of his convictions with regard to choices such as leaving the Afghan characters unsubtitled - keeping us as in the dark as to what's being said as the SEALs - only to subtitle ONE SCENE for no reason other than mistrust in his audience's ability to comprehend what's going on.

It's not all bad, though. The performances are solid (particularly the ever-reliable Foster), the locations are suitably rocky and foresty and only occasionally marred by shoddy CGI, some surprisingly sympathetic Afghan characters show up towards the end and the whole thing at least feels earnest in its celebration of its subjects. And there's a bit with a duck that made me laugh out loud.

In a culture so concerned about the glamourising of violence, what can be said about a movie which exists solely to lionise those that kill for a living? This film will probably satisfy war-fetishists and make servicemen and women proud, but it ultimately feels like Michael Bay directing a mid-budget Armed Forces advert.

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