Reviews

CNN Doesn't Care About Rules of Engagement

As much as Lone Survivor makes clear the Seals' legendary dedication and durability, it will go on to literalize the "dark, cold corners" and, of course, the "bad things".


Lone Survivor

Director: Peter Berg
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster, Eric Bana, Ali Suliman, Alexander Ludwig, Yousuf Azami, Sammy Sheik
Rated: R
Studio: Universal
Year: 2013
US date: 2013-12-27 (General release)
UK date: 2014-01-31 (General release)
Website
Trailer

"There's a storm inside of us," says Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), "I've heard many guys speak of this, a burning, a river, a drive." (And apparently… a bit of poetry too.) Luttrell's talking about Navy Seals, men who never give up, who push themselves "into those dark, cold corners where the bad things live. Where the bad things fight." As he narrates, Lone Survivor offers illustration: guys in water and running on the beach, grimacing and breathing hard, shivering and holding their breath, sweating and bleeding.

As much as the movie makes clear the Seals' legendary dedication and durability, it will go on to literalize the "dark, cold corners" and, of course, the "bad things". Just so, it's not long before the demonstrations of drills and camaraderie give way to the mission in Afghanistan that will leave Marcus as the titular survivor, the only team member who can tell this harrowing story about the loss of 19 Americans during a failed 2005 mission. As this is a movie directed by Peter Berg, that harrowing part takes up the bulk of its running time, such that you can see how all the storm inside, the drive and the drills, prepare Marcus and his men to face the bad things.

Here they live and fight in remote mountains (are there any other kind in Afghanistan, at least in the Afghanistan of the US imagination?). Dropped into rough and rocky terrain with little tree cover and plenty of harsh weather, the men are looking for one especially bad thing, senior Taliban commander and killer of Marines Ahmad Shah (Yousuf Azami), introduced on a screen at the Seals briefing at Bagram Air Force base, as he and his second, Taraq (Sammy Sheik), storm through a village and terrorize children. No doubt about it, as Lieutenant Commander Erik Kristensen (Eric Bana) helpfully points out, Shah is a "bad guy". He's also clever and brutal and knows his world in much more detail than the invaders who arrive with so much firepower and technology -- technology that fails in the remote mountains, by the way, when the comms go down: dun dun dun!

What's more, Shah's supported by locals, though it's not clear if this is because they fear him or they fear the Americans. And so, when the Seals are discovered by a foursome of goatherds, they have a decision to make, whether to kill them, tie them up and leave them, likely to die in that harsh weather, or let them go, as the Geneva Conventions require. Round and round they go, Marcus listening to the debate among Mikey (Taylor Kitsch), Danny (Emile Hirsch), and Axe (Ben Foster), each with his own opinion on what to do and reasons for it. The film here takes a moment too, to note that a couple of the goatherds are children, and even to allow that they're afraid of these foreigners so freakishly transformed with equipment and armor. It also features the Americans' concerns about consequences, that, as Marcus puts it, "If we kill these kids, it’s international news. CNN doesn’t care about Rules of Engagement. SEALs kill kids: that’s the story, forever." While the guys with the storm inside them ponder the alternatives, the camera cutting from one grim face to another, you know what their decision will be, because, well, you know the film's title.

The decision, reached and announced by Marcus (with the added note that, after all the unit is not a democracy), leads more or less directly to their engagement with Shah's men. At this point the film turns into a kind of Mad Max on foot, essentially an extended chase sequence in which every body on screen might be blown up, impaled, decapitated, dismembered, and exploded. This provides for all manner of tension and excitement, as well as plenty of bloody excess and boy bonding. The Seals are noble and resolute, the bad guys are cruel and implacable, and, as the Americans dwindle in number, their situations are increasingly desperate. The desperation is rendered in smashed face makeup, raucous camerawork, layers of noisy gunfire, and a smattering of slow motion footage to emphasize the abysmal abuse inflicted the men as they slam over cliffs and hit every sharp rock and jutting tree branch on the way down.

All this mayhem, the battle against the land, on top of the guys' declarations of loyalty and promises to protect one another, begin with the notion that the Americans are heroic (underlined by the closing montage soundtrack choice of Peter Gabriel's cover of Bowie's "Heroes"), come to this dark corner to fight the bad things. And then, Marcus stumbles on a not-bad thing, that is, a village where one man saves him, despite the danger such action plainly poses to his own family, here, a young, wide-eyed boy (Rohan Chand), whose mother and siblings remain off-screen.

As much as Gulab (Ali Suliman) serves Marcus' plot, he has little to say about how he's come to this risky decision, a decision that in its way, matches the one Marcus made earlier. When Marcus asks why he's helping him, Gulbab offers only this cryptic bit of English, "No Taliban". When this means he is not Taliban or he resists the Taliban or both or something else, the answer is good enough for Marcus, who needs to be hidden, fed, and healed, at least enough so he might be picked up by the Americans, whom Gulab sends his father to fetch from a base that's probably miles away.

Lone Survivor offers up that Marcus understands his good fortune, moved to tears by the child who looks at him with such wonder and awe. It also shows that Gulab and his fellow villagers are menaced by Taraq and the other murderous Taliban bullies. It doesn't spend much time worrying that the noisy machine that swoops in to take Marcus away is one more instance of the Americans -- with storms inside them -- missing big pictures, the offense they embody and the violence they represent.

5

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image