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Film & DVD

‘Lone Survivor’ focuses too much on action, not enough on character

Americans love their heroes, and this movie about the mission of Operation Red Wings is no exception

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The action scenes are viscerally charged and often wince-inducing, particularly several skull-shattering tumbles. Berg wants us to physically experience every gunshot and body blow – all while reassuring us that these men died without regret, fearlessly fighting to their last breath and bullet.

Lone Survivor glorifies these fighters, much as Zach Snyder canonized the Spartans in 300, as cartoon-symbols of American heroism. Thankfully, Berg doesn’t go full-Rambo in his depictions, making it clear that these men, despite their elite training, were very mortal. But that doesn’t stop him from pitting the four soldiers against the 200 Taliban fighters ghostwriter Patrick Robinson claims in Luttrell’s memoir, and not the 20 or so that most other accounts report. After all, the higher the body count, the more badass their courage plays.

It’s a far-cry from the modest ambiguity Steven Spielberg offered up in Saving Private Ryan. While many cite the blood-soaked invasion of Omaha Beach as the film’s signature moment, I found that Private Mellish (Adam Goldberg) begging a German soldier to “wait, wait wait...” before being stabbed was the perfect deconstruction of war: the terrifying realization that a man who neither knows nor can understand you is about to take your life. The scene still haunts me to this day.

It’s understandable why Berg, the son of a Marine, would want to honor the brave men of SEAL Team 10. But Lone Survivor ultimately celebrates the cult of the self-sacrificing warrior rather than the cause they fought for. It could easily play as a recruitment film for young men eager to fight – not for any reason the U.S. military can convincingly articulate, but the glory of dying beside an equally duped brother-in-arms.

In fact, the teams’ biggest complaint in Lone Survivor, is the faulty equipment and support they received during their mission. Which tragically aligns with Donald Rumsfeld’s callous reply to a questioning soldier that “you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.” I’m still waiting for the film that confronts what it truly means to “support our troops.”

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