Among obvious things such as brotherhood and what it means to be a Navy Seal, Peter Berg’s “Lone Survivor” is about how sometimes things can go really, really bad.

Based on a true story, the movie revolves around four Seals who get trapped behind enemy lines. What begins as a standard mission for them turns into an intense (and, unfortunately, tragic) fight for their lives.

Like any great war film, “Lone Survivor” makes sure to focus on the actions of the individual soldiers involved and their struggles, and despite the movie’s overwhelming sense of pride and appreciation directed toward the Navy Seals and the American military, Berg doesn’t make any of it look fun. 

‘Blunt intensity’

The movie does get off to a rough start: Real footage of Navy Seal training is shown over the opening credits, and then we’re given a brief introduction to the four Navy Seals as they’re on base preparing for their mission. There’s Marcus Luttrel (Mark Wahlberg), team leader Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Danny Dietz (Emile Hersch) and Matt “Axe” Axelson (Ben Foster). The Seal training footage, while well intentioned, undercuts the action in the rest of the movie.

And as for the following section introducing the Seals at the base, it should have either been longer (to let us see more how they interact with one another when not on a mission), or Berg should have just gone straight into the mission and introduced them then. As it is, the first 15 or so minutes of “Lone Survivor” feel slight and unnecessary.

Once it gets to the actual mission, “Lone Survivor” becomes thrilling, nerve-wracking and, most of all, saddening. The four-man team gets dropped deep in mountains of Afghanistan. Their mission: capture and kill a notorious Taliban leader in a nearby village. By a stroke of bad luck, their cover is compromised by a group of goat herders, and to make matters worse, their radio isn’t picking up a signal. After much discussion and disagreement, the Seals decide to do the honorable thing and let them go.

From there, the four Seals find themselves facing off against a massive Taliban army. The bullets begin to fly, critical flesh wounds are inflicted and bones are broken. Just when they’ve temporarily shaken the advancing Taliban soldiers, more come running out of the trees, and the bullets keep whizzing past.

Berg and cinematographer Tobias A. Schliessler shoot these combat sequences with a blunt intensity. The viewer is left uncomfortable and disoriented, and by the end, you find yourself stumbling out of the theater, bleeding and bruised along with these guys.

During this section of the picture, Berg (who adapted the screenplay from Luttrel’s 2007 memoir of the same name) wisely keeps the action focused and contained to these four individuals. The movie never feels artificial and overwrought, and more importantly, Berg doesn’t make any of it look glorious or pleasant.

But, at the same time like “Zero Dark Thirty” or “The Hurt Locker,” “Lone Survivor” remains apolitical, never feeling like military propaganda but also not actively anti-war.

In addition, all four of the lead actors turn in convincing performances.

A compelling take

There’s nothing all that earth-shattering and complex about “Lone Survivor.” It doesn’t rewrite the rules of the war picture. Berg’s movie is a straightforward, realistic and skillfully made war movie that focuses on the individual soldiers and their struggles.

The film may get off to a rough start, but once it hits its stride it never stops moving and holds you the entire time.

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