Lone Survivor, an intense account of a gunfight between the Taliban and Navy SEALs in the remote mountainous terrain of Afghanistan, falls in with the adage that all good war films are antiwar films, which should inspire an abhorrence of war in the masses who watch them. But from another, less-idealized perspective, director Peter Berg’s film, based on the true story laid out in Marcus Luttrell’s book about the compromised 2005 op called “Operation Red Wings,” also freely taps into the idea that the battlefront can make for a riveting action movie with obvious links to violent computer gaming.
Yes, Lone Survivor supplies its own built-in plot spoiler of a title, but the ending is only part of the story, in which details — and often gripping, punishing, moment-by-moment operational ones — count for much. Rather than opening with a flurry of action and blood, this film begins more calmly, with the hale and hardy stuff of SEALs in training. We watch as they try to “push [themselves] harder than [they] thought possible,” and we empathize with the emotional rapport and domestic dreams of the soldiers, who plan weddings back home and talk shop and rank. A dangerous operation to assassinate a high-ranking (and American-soldier-killing) Taliban leader places our quartet in the communication-challenged mountains, perched high above a compound where the target is seen. At one point, the target is in the proverbial crosshairs, but the deceptive peace and calm of their mountain outpost is quickly reversed, a process begun with the clanking tinkle of goat bells that grows into furious fighting.
Somewhere between the poles of antiwar film and adrenaline-fueling battle flick is the particular and prickly condition of watching a film about a war still and currently underway (a situation also empowering Kathryn Bigelow’s 2008 hit, The Hurt Locker), which has the effect of preventing us from detaching and viewing the goings-on as something consigned to history. That underlying sense of contemporary, as-yet-unresolved conflict, not to mention the reality of the story itself, makes the visceral gunplay and life-or-death choreography of these action figures all the more painful and poignant. As such, the underscoring takeaway message is, simply, this: This protracted war must end.