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Monday, 17 November 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Lone Survivor

Directed by: Peter Berg

Produced by: Peter Berg
Sarah Aubrey
Randall Emmett
Norton Herrick
Barry Spikings
Akiva Goldsman
Mark Wahlberg
Stephen Levinson
Vitory Grigoriants

Screenplay by: Peter Berg

Based onLone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell
Patrick Robinson

Starring: Mark Wahlberg
Taylor Kitsch
Emilie Hirsch
Ben Foster
Eric Bana

Music by: Explosions In The Sky
Steve Jablonsky

Cinematography by: Tobias Schliessler

Editing by: Colby Parker Jr.

Studio(s): Emmett/Furla Films
Film 44

Distributed by: Universal Pictures

Release date(s): January 10, 2014 (United States)
January 31, 2014 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 121 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $40 million

Box-office revenue: $149, 295, 601

Alrighty then, I shall proceed henceforth into the rest of the reviews for October. Belated as usual, but after this, I only have one left to do (on James Franco's adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's Child Of God), and I've got ahead and started on November. I mentioned that for this week I wanted to see The Maze Runner, Fury, Nightcrawler and Interstellar, correctly predicting that things would not go to plan, due to a combination of circumstances both within and out of my control. I have only seen one of those films (Fury), because I went on the wrong day to see The Maze Runner, a hasty arrangement with short notice amongst friends curtailed seeing Nightcrawler, and, hey kids, I'm going to Dublin again! "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!" Yes, I'm on the road to work the CityWest Hotel and Disney On Ice, la dee da! Ah well, I'm taking the hours while they are there. Thankfully, I've checked ahead on those films, and the only one that presents itself as a problem for seeing is The Maze Runner, so, for all the latest and greatest in the movies, keep your eyes posted!

Today's movie up for review is Lone Survivor, based on the true story involving a failed US Navy Seals mission, Operation Red Wings, in which a four-man team was tasked with tracking Taliban leader Ahmad Shah. It was later depicted in a nonfiction book by Marcus Luttrell, the titular Lone Survivor, and ghostwriter Patrick Robinson, which is the primary source for this feature film. On a quick side-note, normally I don't review films which have been nominated for an Oscar the previous year (this picked up two noms, for Best Sound Editing and Sound Mixing, both of which were won by Gravity), but I have decided to make exceptions for those films which it was not possible to see in the United Kingdom before awards season. There has always been a discrepancy between US and UK release (indeed, my friend at Danland Movies has a detailed article just recently published on the matter, entitled 'The Curious Case Of The Gambler - The Woes Of Hollywood's International Release Strategy), and the case can also be the same outside of the States. Indeed, Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises only got a small release in the UK in May of this year, despite having been Oscar-nominated and been out ten months previously in Japan, and Studio Ghibli's other big 2013 release, The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya, by fellow anime master Isao Takahata, has still yet to have a UK release date set. So much for a quick side note! Anywho, this film is directed by Peter Berg, who started his career before transitioning into directing the likes of Welcome To The Jungle (very underrated film with Dwayne Johnson and Seann William Scott), Friday Night Lights, Hancock and, erm, Battleship. Starring Mark Wahlberg as Marcus Luttrell the hospital corpsman, the rest of the team is rounded out by Taylor Kitsch as Michael Murphy, the team leader, Emilie Hirsch as Danny Dietz, communications specialist, and Ben Foster as Matthew Axelson, the team's sniper, with Eric Bana as their commander Erik S. Kristensen. I would go into plot synopsis, but I already told you that from the onset, so, shall we dance?

Starting off with the good in Lone Survivor, I thought that this was a technically astute picture. This comes out most prominently during the film's long, extended action sequences, which are some of the most intense put to film in recent memory. Shot by regular Berg-collaborator Tobias Schliessler, the cinematography resembles, in a good way, the relentlessness of the assaults one might encounter in a tactical first-person shooting video game. It's an appropriate feeling, given the nature of the film, which depicts this four-man team being surrounded by hordes of Taliban forces. This, combined with the stunt coordination, vividly depicts the trials of the central characters. Jacking up the intensity is the editing in both the film and sound departments. The cuts on film are sharp, but not inappropriately nauseating, and aurally the piece is a sheer battery on the hearing. When reviewing on DVD, I make a point watching on my good Blaupunkt LED backlight television, which, notwithstanding it's amazing specs is one of the best buys I've ever made tech-wise, also sounds terrific, and watching Lone Survivor on that helped accentuate just how good this film sounds. At risk of sounding cliche, you really do get a feeling of the hellish atmosphere of a war-zone with all of the resplendent gunfire and explosions left, right and centre. Speaking of hell, as I said earlier, the central characters go through a trial, and that is also elevated by the makeup and costume departments. These guys break bones, get shot, battered and bruised, cut and scratched, accumulating massive amounts of damage, with the makeup and costumes correlating just the right amount of their respective crafts at the right times. The final thing I'd like to say about the positives of the film is that I believe that in his role as a director Peter Berg directs this film with genuine intent. Indeed, I don't doubt the passion of just about everyone involved in the film. Lone Survivor has received some criticism from different elements of the media and journalistic circles, some of whom have labelled the movie as being xenophobic and pro-war propaganda. I direct you to an article by Calum Marsh on The Atlantic entitled 'Lone Survivor's Takeaway: Every War Movie Is A Pro-War Movie,' which I will link to the bottom of the review. I disagree with these assertions on both counts, for I think that Berg makes a point of addressing the point that not all Afghans are brown-skinned Taliban savages, and on the 'pro-war' front, I think it addresses more the camaraderie and sacrifices made by the men and women in the military. At it's heart, what Lone Survivor is is a simple tale of survival in light of insurmountable odds, and to be frank, one shouldn't read much into the film.

The reason I left the last paragraph on that note because while I thought Lone Survivor was a decent film, strongest during the intense action sequences, I do not feel that it is a war movie of great importance with any message of great profundity. It is just, as a said, a simple tale of survival, which would be fine in itself, but the fact is is that while Peter Berg directs well, his script and adaptation of Luttrell's story fails to match up to the strength of the film in other departments. Lone Survivor is a two-hour feature film which spends much of the first hour building slowly towards the action with the usual basil exposition stuff. Great, I love characterisation, except for the fact that any attempt at characterisation here is underdeveloped. I failed to get a true sense of just who these are personality-wise, and this is troublesome for the rest of the movie, for as these are picked off in brutal, violent fashion one by one, I didn't care enough. That's not being callous, that's just Berg and company not doing enough to convince me to give a damn, for each of the four central characters came across as just hunks of meat. This is a shame, considering you have good actors such as Mark Wahlberg, Emilie Hirsch and Ben Foster (Taylor Kitsch is a give or take really) portraying these guys. Ever worse is Eric Bana's Commander Kristensen, who's just more or less ever other Commander/General/Leader figure we've seen in a war movie before, and the worst example is Alexander Ludwig, who as rookie Machinist Mate Shane Patton is a saddled with a highly two-dimensional part and is actually even worse than the proverbial job description. If there's one thing that always gets people into a war film, even if they are as far removed from the military as can be and regardless of the central message, it's the characters. Unfortunately, here it is severely lacking. At the end of Lone Survivor, there is a tribute of photographs and home videos to Marcus Luttrell and the soldiers in the Navy Seals who died during Operation Red Wings, musically accompanied by Peter Gabriel and the New Blood Orchestra performing a cover of David Bowie's Heroes. It's a very moving short piece, and frankly stands as a more fitting tribute to Luttrell and his comrades than the near two-hour film which has preceded it.

Lone Survivor is one of those pictures where there are good and bad things in near equal measure. I think that the battle sequences which take up much of the second half of the film are some of the best I've seen in a good while. It's a technically astute picture which is well-shot with great stunt coordination, strong editing in more ways than one, vividly depicting the battery and assault that the Navy Seals on this botched mission went through. However, it is missing that key human element that makes me care about the characters and the trials they are going through. This lack of appropriate development impacts on the resonance the action sequences, a character's onscreen death, and the actors portraying them. Most actors will tell you it is their dream to play rich and multi-faceted characters, not just to flex their acting prowess, but because they are more like human beings. These guys just felt like hunks of meat. I don't doubt that Peter Berg and all involved are passionate about the story they are telling, but whenever I'm more moved by a four-minute tribute at the end of the film than the preceding two hours, something's not all right.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 5.2/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Sweet (listening VAST, a band whose work I've been digging lately)

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