The one film that no one saw coming yet seems to be taking the cinematic world by storm this week is none other than Lone Survivor. After a surprise nomination at the WGA Awards the film now looks poised to pick up an Oscar nomination this Thursday morning (most likely in one of the sound categories). Even better for the film, though, was its massive weekend at the box office as it expanded nationwide this past weekend. With close to $40 million dollars grossed in just this one weekend it almost took with it the January weekend box office record. With so much going for it the film has to be good, right? For the most part, Lone Survivor is quite good. It’s a film with a director that knows how to do action sequences and a cast that is much more exciting than it has any right to be. Had more time been paid attention to developing characters that become important in the film’s third act this film really could have been something special.
Lone Survivor follows the real life story of Marcus Luttrell and his attempt to survive after he and his team are ambushed in a mission gone wrong in Afghanistan. The film is directed and written by Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights, Hancock and Battleship).
Peter Berg has never been known as a good screenwriter and he can get very generic as a director outside of action sequences so it was surprising to see how well the film was crafted for the first two-thirds of its runtime. It’s mostly a visual feast but Berg’s screenplay is simple to the film’s advantage. All of this leads up to a gun battle that easily lasted over thirty minutes while never feeling excessive. The one major problem with the film is that once that battle ends it feels like the film falls off a cliff. Characters are introduced that we are immediately supposed to have a rooting interest for, and, despite a lot less going on, the events of the final third feel like a lot of liberty was taken with the real life story.
However, the film’s real strength is the cast that Berg was able to assemble. As his career goes on it has become quite clear that Mark Wahlberg functions way better as a comedic actor than a dramatic actor so it was a nice surprise to see Wahlberg feel natural in the lead role of Marcus Luttrell. He gives far from the most interesting performance in the film, but Wahlberg never lets his superstar presence get in the way of telling this story. It was also nice to see Taylor Kitsch get a good role after the recent bombs he has been in. Kitsch doesn’t get much material but it’s his best performance since he was playing Tim Riggins. The two real highlights in the film, though, are Ben Foster and Emile Hirsch. No actor can play a loose cannon as good as Foster can, and it was nice to see him play a more subtle version of that type of character here. Meanwhile, Hirsch does a great job of displaying the emotional effects of battle.
Lone Survivor doesn’t quite stick the landing, but it’s a solid war film.