Lone Survivor: a story of human kindness in the face of war

Lone-Survivor-ss-18bFOR THE LAST decade our armed forces have been in the midst of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As of the 15th January 2014, there have been 3,415 coalition deaths in Afghanistan as part of ongoing coalition operations (Operation Enduring Freedom and ISAF) since the invasion in 2001. In this total, the American figure is for deaths “In and Around Afghanistan” which, as defined by the United States Department of Defense, includes some deaths in Pakistan and Uzbekistan and the deaths of 12 CIA operatives.

The Hurt Locker of 2008 was so militarily incorrect in soldier practices and protocol that it is about time that a film capturing the terror of this war we continue to find ourselves embroiled in has finally hit the silver screen. Whether you agree or disagree with our operations in the Middle East is a discussion for another article; this is concerning the film, and nothing more.

The film’s title and lead actor give the game away somewhat. Mark Wahlberg is “The Lone Survivor”, as they would say in a 1960s style theatrical trailer. I do not apologise for that spoiler alert because if you did not see it coming you should go to the Vice-Chancellor’s office and walk away from this esteemed academic institution. Wahlberg has become great in these types of films. Gritty, ballsy and determined, he has even started to challenge Alec Baldwin as the perennial sleazeball. In this he plays a soldier more focused on saving his friends than himself. Loyalty to the cause, work ethic and respect are the foundations of this motion picture.

Wahlberg plays Marcus Luttrell, one of the leaders of Operation Red Wings. Operation Red Wings was designed as an attack on Taliban leaders in the foothills of Afghanistan.  Adapted from a memoir by Luttrell, Lone Survivor narrates the story of an ill-fated 2005 Afghanistan mission to assassinate a murderous Taliban warlord Ahmad Shah.

Director Peter Berg has handled such delicate subject matter incredibly well. Many war films concerning American troops are exercises in hero worship. How true to life this depiction is to the actual events is debatable; however, if this is anything, it is entertaining. Wahlberg is far from alone in a strong cast. Eric Bana of Hulk and Star Trek fame plays the officer at base. The most surprising role in the film is Emile Hirsch, who made his breakthrough in Girl Next Door in 2004. I was impressed by his role and there is more to come in 2014 as he prepares to star alongside Holliday Grainger in the US-simulcast remake of Bonnie and Clyde.

Anyone who has ever seen Friday Night Lights with Kyle Chandler will know who Taylor Kitsch is. He is forging a good career for himself. In Lone Survivor Kitsch is resolute and gets on with the job in hand, reserved and aware of what he is employed to do. That is the resounding feature of this film. Apart from a few scenes where the soldiers let their hair down in the middle of the desert, Berg has made a film where it is made abundantly clear to the audience that being a soldier is an occupation, and one fraught with danger and a large dose of testosterone at that.

Explosions in the Sky have made a fantastic musical accompaniment to the film in the form of a stirring soundtrack. If ever a band was made for a war movie, this was it.

The end of the film is a triumph. In the face of everything it is the last thing you expect, and it brings home the horrors of war and how they stretch far wider than the forces deployed in foreign lands. Although it is not top of the cinematic list of twists at the end of the tale, it is touching and brings the human side of war into stark focus.

The Afghan villagers that protected Marcus did so out of duty to their 2000 year-old code of honour, known as Pashtunwali. Pashtunwali requires a tribe to undertake the responsibility of safeguarding an individual against his enemies and protecting him at all costs. These brave souls may be equally as important in the fight against the sexist, brutal and medieval Taliban as the great number of our countrymen who have made the ultimate sacrifice during this most recent war.

This is a brilliant and timely film.