Director Peter Berg’s “Lone Survivor” is a powerful, heartbreaking film that simply has to be seen. As the movie ended, tears rolled down my cheeks as I noticeably breathed unevenly.
Based on a popular book by Marcus Luttrell, the lone survivor in this tragic story, it focuses on four members of an American SEAL team sent on a mission in Afghanistan to kill a wanted Taliban leader on June 28, 2005. Though I worried that the film would make the same mistake as “Captain Phillips,” namely overly emphasizing the macho elan and skills of soldiers in the special services, that concern was soon dismissed. Reduced to its core, this is a film about skilled military personnel sent on a dangerous mission that failed for unanticipated reasons, and you gradually felt that someone had reduced the oxygen content inside the movie theater.
Mark Wahlberg has never been this splendid. Fighting to survive and save his buddies against all conceivable odds, you are inevitably left wanting to wrap your arms around him.
The other three members of the team, played by Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster, never overplay their hand. Chased through ragged mountain terrain by a large group of Taliban militants, they suffered ugly injuries as they tumbled over massive boulders. Repeatedly shot and wounded, they die with dignity, their last thoughts being of loved ones at home.
Hirsch continues a brilliant career that includes memorable performances in “Killer Joe” (2011), “Taking Woodstock” (2009), “Milk” (2008) and the mesmerizing tale of a kid meeting his end in Alaska in “Into the Wild” (2007). While Kitsch is best known for his starring role in the acclaimed television series “Friday Night Lights,” you should set aside your doubts and see his underrated performance in the critically condemned “John Carter” (2012). And Foster is a hidden talent as displayed in “Kill Your Darlings” (2013); “The Messenger” (2009) and “3:10 to Yuma” (2006).
Eric Bana’s portrayal as the boss of the operation also must be noted. He is a startling actor who breathes life into small roles, and it is worth remembering his performance in intriguing films such as “Closed Circuit” (2013), the spectacular “Hannah” (2011), and the embracing “Munich” (2005).
I am a great fan of certain war movies, and if you agree with me, you have to put “Lone Survivor” on your list. It reminds me of stirring films like “All Quiet on the Western Front” (1930), and director John Ford’s “They Were Expendable” (1945). It has the allure of Burt Lancaster’s film about Vietnam in the early years, “Go Tell the Spartans” (1978), not to mention the overpowering “Platoon” (1986), and “Apocalypse Now” (1979). Finally, as you watch good men die, you are reminded of the burden the one survivor now carries through life as displayed in Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” (1998).
Look, I know that nearly everyone is aware of who lives and who dies in this tremendous cinematic achievement, but wait until you see the end and our lone survivor being aided by a friendly Afghanistan village and an 8-year-old boy. That little kid says nothing, and he doesn’t have to. Stare into his eyes, and then contemplate mankind’s barbaric treatment of our brothers and sisters around the world.
August: Osage County
How can a film with two Oscar-nominated actresses based on an honored Broadway play be so pathetically uninspired? Even more troubling is that this disappointing film projects a wretched crew of shrewish women in a season focusing on sensational female characters as “The Spectacular Now,” “Frances Ha,” “The East,” “Before Midnight” and “In a World.”
Let me just say that while Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts have received nominations for their performances of a drug-addled mother and her lightweight daughter, neither has a chance of winning. Streep’s drug addiction and vengeful take on everything human would have only worked if she would have become Leonardo DiCaprio’s third wife in “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
Roberts plays one of three sisters, female Musketeers who are an insult to women living east of the Rockies and west of the Mississippi River. Juliette Lewis’ character is so empty headed that she is choosing to marry a guy who is trying to seduce the 14-year-old daughter (Abigail Breslin) of Roberts’ character. Julianne Nicholson plays the third daughter, a sad woman in love with her first cousin who is actually her half-brother.
Joining this group of female losers is Margo Martindale, the sister of Streep’s Violet Weston who secretly had sex with Violet’s husband, giving birth to a son destined for psychological ruin. There isn’t a scene where these women aren’t either yelling or slapping each other, and it makes you want to join them.
Ironically, the only remotely likeable characters are played by men. Sam Shepard, appearing briefly as Violet’s forlorn husband, has the good sense to quickly commit suicide. Ewan McGregor and Chris Cooper play the husbands of Roberts’ Barbara Weston and Martindale’s Mattie Fae Aiken, respectively, and McGregor has the strength to divorce his venomous wife while Cooper threatens the same to his after 38 years. The audience could only cheer their good sense.
In nominating Streep for a Best Actress Oscar, the Academy has again fallen prey to the Ingmar Bergman syndrome. No matter how lackadaisical her performance, they again bow in her direction, this time making the incredible mistake of failing to nominate Emma Thompson for her wonderful role in “Saving Mr. Banks.”
Finally, to add insult to injury, the talented Benedict Cumberbatch is forced to play the above-mentioned cousin/half-brother who appears to be severely emotionally challenged. You would swear that the poor man suffers from autism, something that has gone completely ignored by his slovenly family.
Given Cumberbatch’s phenomenal performances in recent films like “Star Trek Into the Darkness” (2013), “12 Years a Slave” and the voice of Smaug in “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” it isn’t hard to judge the table he will avoid at this year’s Oscars.•
Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis. When he is not in the courtroom or working diligently in his Pennsylvania Street office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters watching and preparing to review the latest films. To read more of his reviews, visit www.bigmouthbobs.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.