It’s tough to criticize the plot of a movie that faithfully recreates real events. What happened, happened. The storyteller’s role becomes editorial – deciding where the narrative begins and ends, choosing a viewpoint for the unfolding events, infusing a documentary chronicle with soul and meaning. This is particularly challenging when the movie’s title gives the ending away. We know how “Lone Survivor” will end. It’s up to director Peter Berg, his cast, and the screenwriters to help us understand what it means.
What they’ve given us is the best war movie since “Black Hawk Down,” an unflinching portrayal of brutal combat in the mountains of Afghanistan after a carefully planned Navy SEAL mission goes off the rails. As with the battle of Mogadishu, the Americans are hopelessly outnumbered… and the Taliban attackers are hopelessly outclassed. Is the point of this story that three of the four SEALs died, or is the point how they fought, and why?
“Lone Survivor” takes the latter view. We get to know the men and the spirit of their unit, then follow them through a tense journey to a Taliban-occupied village that turns out to contain 1000 percent more scumbags than they were expecting. The SEALs face an agonizing decision when their position is discovered by some unarmed goat herders: kill them to keep them quiet, or let them go so they can warn the Taliban? The debate over this momentous decision is likely to stay with audiences long after they leave the theater, especially given that the enemy revels in the slaughter of innocents.
The intense combat that follows tells us a lot about the importance of terrain, movement, and avoiding envelopment by a numerically superior enemy. When the odds are thirty to one, there’s nothing worse than running out of places to go… even when you’re a SEAL who can fall off a mountain, more than once, and keep fighting.
America is blessed beyond measure by the courage of such men. The world is more fortunate than it will ever admit to have American boots ready to tread in its coldest, darkest, bloodiest corners. We mourn our losses – there will not be many dry eyes in the theater after any showing of “Lone Survivor” – but we are also amazed by their skill and spirit. One of the SEALs wants his family to know he was content to spend his last day fighting alongside his brothers, with a full heart. It’s long past time for Hollywood to tell us more about these heroes.