Lone Survivor: The Best I Saw in 2013

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I’ll be honest.  Peter Berg’s tribute to Marcus Luttrell, who was a part of a mission gone wrong in 2005 called Operation Red Wing, is as powerful as it gets and deserves every set of eyes this month as it gets released wide.  I saw it in November and was knocked on my ass immediately.   Here is my take and why it is the best thing I saw in 2013.

Quick Setup-Mark Wahlberg stars as Marcus Luttrell, the author of the first-person memoir “Lone Survivor,” whose book has become a motivational resource for its lessons on how the power of the human spirit is tested when we are pushed beyond our mental and physical limits.  Starring alongside Wahlberg as the other members of the SEAL team are Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster.

My Take-Peter Berg was born to bring the story of Marcus Luttrell and his fallen brothers to the big screen.  If there is one director capable of visceral action, high stakes drama and a real world compass, it’s the filmmaker who gave us Friday Night Lights and The Kingdom.  Remember 2012’s alien action flick Battleship with Taylor Kitsch?  Berg made that movie so Universal Pictures would let him make this passionately intense and highly brutal true story of a failed Navy Seal operation.  Recruiting his longtime muse Kitsch, Berg has made one of the best movies I have seen all year and the most powerful war film since Saving Private Ryan.

In a cast anchored by the performance of Mark Wahlberg, Berg sets his sights on Operation Red Wing, a recon mission where four Seals were supposed to gather intelligence on a Taliban leader for a possible capture/kill.   Instead, they were spotted by locals and had to literally shoot their way towards survival.  Berg got the full consent of all the men’s families and those include Luttrell, Mike Axelson(Ben Foster), Mike Murphy(Kitsch) and Dan Dietz(Emile Hirsch).  More than anything, this film is a dedication to the men and women who sacrifice themselves to keep us safe and it’s a direct salute to the dangerous waters and terrain that Navy Seals deal with every time they step foot on a mission.

In the opening credits, we get a glimpse of the vicious training they are put through.  These men are truly built to become machines and defend the honor of the United States.   While the movie’s overall tone is drenched in imminent dread and sadness, a raw heroism is at the center of the story (crafted by Berg).  Luttrell(who has a small cameo in the film) and several other Navy Seals participated in the production and you feel it throughout the film.  The story isn’t dipped in Hollywood melodrama and instead delivered like a bullet to the chest.

A true physical director, Berg spares you nothing in the carnage department.  I credit his bravura filmmaking here, unleashing the mayhem at full power.  Once these guys hit the dirt and try to escape, the action gets intense very quick.  Limbs breaks, bullet wounds, and bombs feel like they land in the seat next to you.  This film contains the longest and most visceral action sequence since Saving Private Ryan’s opening scene on D-Day.

The cast is perfectly assembled.  Wahlberg got to know Luttrell and the actor brings the dramatic chops and professionalism to a bittersweet role.  His outburst at a recent awards show came straight from the heart and the fact that he is playing a man who literally walked through hell on earth.   Kitsch is strong and shows his badass ability in playing the leader of the group, Murphy.  Foster adds a heroic flavor to his usual complex menace and Hirsch is the reliably earnest young man simply trying to survive.  Eric Bana lends a fine supporting hand as the Lieutenant Commander Erik S. Kristensen.  Berg handpicked these guys and they grow into fully fleshed out roles.  By the time they hit the battle field, they feel like a person and not a caricature.

At the end of the film, real footage of the men is put on display to the sounds of Peter Gabriel’s cover of “Heroes” and the fantastic instrumental band Explosions in the Sky(a Berg favorite).  This is where you see where Berg’s heart is located and why this film matters so much to the families and to people who value the sacrifice made by these soldiers in the worst of times.  Sometimes movies only wish to show the victorious battles of our history.  Lone Survivor dares to unveil a dark hour in our Navy’s history and through the blood and loss, the rust and bone of heroism shows its true soul.  Thanks to a courageously electric filmmaker willing to go to the depths of hell to tell a hard-nosed story and a flawless cast, this film is one of the best I’ve seen all year and has a spot on my top 10 films of 2013.   You will walk away feeling happy to be under Marcus Luttrell’s watch.

***Dan Buffa is the co-creator, administrator and writer for the movie website, film-addict.com. He also contributes to United Cardinal Bloggers, Arch City Sports, Aaron Miles Fastball, Voicesfilm.com and writes for his personal blog, www.doseofbuffa.com.  He is also a published writer for the Yahoo Contributor Network.   Dan is a St. Louis, Missouri born and raised writer with a need to inform and the ability to pound out 1,000-1,500 word pieces with ease.  When he isn’t writing or drinking coffee, he is spending time with his wife and son in South City.  Follow him at @buffa82 on Twitter and reach him for thoughts, comments and general feedback at buffa82@gmail.com.

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Author: D. Buffa

A regular guy who feels a journalistic hunger to tell the news. I blog because its wired into my brain to write what I think in print. I offer an opinion. A solo tour here. Take regular stories and offer my spin on them. Sports, film, television, music, fatherhood, culture, food, and so on. Commentary on everything. A St. Louis native and Little Rock resident who wants to write just to keep the hands fresh and ready.

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