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On Review: 'Lone Survivor'

January 31, 2014

Editor's Note: This monthly installment of movie reviews by Spirit and Jefferson County Neighbors' reporters Matt Triponey and Dan Long rates Lone Survivor.

Plot Recap: Based on true events, a Navy SEAL team is stranded behind enemy lines in Afghanistan after an operation goes awry.

When you're writing a story, you ask the expected questions: What is it about? Who are my characters? Where do things go from here? Etc.

There's another one, though, that I think a lot of writers, professional and otherwise, never get around to asking, and that's a problem, because it might be the most important one: Why do you want to tell this story?

It's not enough to know that you find a story interesting. You have to know why you find that story interesting. Knowing that is where you'll persuade an audience to share that interest.

The issue with Lone Survivor is that it doesn't seem anyone making it knew the answer to that question.

That isn't commentary on the true events on which it's based. I believe a good writer could find a great story in any person and nearly any event.

It's a commentary on the film, which plays out as an extremely literal portrayal of a series of events that doesn't seem to have a point larger than "these are things that happened once."

There are a lot of ways this story could be adapted into a great and important film.

Perhaps what interests you is the story of survival, the triumph of the human spirit. But why does it devote so little time to that? Why does it sketch its hero's identity so broadly?

Perhaps what interests you is the "horrors of war" element, making some sort of overarching anti-war statement. But where's the sense of the human cost in, say, The Bridge on the River Kwai? Where's the psychology and madness of Apocalypse Now? Where's the sheer, visceral terror and disorientation of Platoon?

Perhaps what interests you is making a simple action movie. But why is there no structure? Why is there no pacing? Why is there so little character? Moreover, isn't there something exploitative about that particular goal?

Perhaps what interests you is honoring the men this is about. But where, other than throwaway mentions of family and friends, is the sense of what they left behind? Where is the sense of what they might have become? Where is the sense of what it is they're fighting for and why? Why do all of their personalities seem to boil down to "light sarcasm?"

Lone Survivor is not a bad film, just a directionless one.

Writer/director Peter Berg radiates a love of this material and a desire to do it justice, and that shows, particularly when he has the opportunity to pull back and breathe.

And the movie is engaging in certain moments — when the characters are briefly subject to an ethical debate early on, or late in the running time when it finally manages to establish a character well enough to get you really rooting for him.

Mostly, though, it's one long action sequence. It tries very hard to feel and to get you to feel. But it doesn't know why, so it doesn't know how.

For more reviews from Matt that are four times as long and 100 percent less proofread, check out his blog:
http://writersblockparade.wordpress.com.

Rating out of 5: 2.5

- By Matt Triponey

* * *
With a title like Lone Survivor, the question of the entire film becomes who and how.

Since the film gives away its ending in its title, Lone Survivor has to work twice as hard on keeping the audience interested and invested.

Lone Survivor does a mediocre job of this, possessing an even amount of good and bad qualities.

The film starts with a training scene that shows the intense weeding out process for the Navy SEALs, which was a good way to set the tone for a sense of realism. Lone Survivor could not completely adhere to that idea, though.

The movie makes an effort at maintaining a sense of realism, but it doesn’t quite go all the way with it.

Lone Survivor shows you that its characters are far from invincible, as they take a physical and emotional toll as the film progresses.

It benefits from graphic violence, with a few scenes that are uncomfortable for the audience to watch, which were as close as a movie can come to accurately depicting the grisly, brutal nature of war.

Like I said, though, it doesn’t feel completely legitimate. Despite being Navy SEALs, the soldiers fell into the action movie clichĂ© of being way too accurate with their weapons, as they generally don’t miss a shot.

Also, slow motion scenes with all four soldiers jumping at once felt cheesy and out of place. There is also a scene late in the film, where a child helps Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg) that came across as corny.

My biggest issue with Lone Survivor was its utter lack of character development.

The team goes into its mission pretty early in the film with barely any background given to the characters, which led to a complete lack of character development and chemistry between the soldiers.

For a movie that lays the patriotism, self-sacrifice and brotherhood principles on pretty thick, it misses the mark when you simply don’t care enough about the characters.

It’s a shame, because the few scenes with heavy dialogue were when the film was at its best.

My favorite scene was when the four soldiers came in contact with three goat herders and they had to debate whether they should kill them or let them free.

The scene was emotionally charged and truly gave the audience a sense of the types of decisions that soldiers must make in those situations, and how they must deal with the consequences.

A few more scenes like that would have strengthened the plot and given some much-needed chemistry between the soldiers.

When the Lone Survivor's plot picks up after the scene with the goat herders, it does a good job of building tension and keeps the audience on edge during the second half of the film.

When Lt. Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch) does some reconnaissance work and discovers he is surrounded by Taliban soldiers, it is genuinely frightening.

All in all, Lone Survivor is a film that strives for a sense of realism and brotherhood in its tale of heroism, and it gets close at points, but doesn’t quite hit the mark.

For more from Dan Long, like Dan Long Comedy on Facebook.

Rating out of 5: 2.5

- By Dan Long

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