You're in the hero-making business, I know. Hollywood executives like you trip all over themselves to bring a story like Marcus Luttrell's to the screen. He's a real-life Navy SEAL who, in 2005, was caught in a fierce firefight during U.S. operations in Afghanistan and, despite being severely, injured, lived to tell the tale (let's agree that it's impossible to spoil a movie called Lone Survivor). And the tale, which Luttrell later told in the book he co-authored, is certainly harrowing stuff. Almost every major studio in Tinseltown bid on the rights. But you won, Timothy. And you did exactly what every other studio would have done: created a flag-waving, testosterone-heavy, obnoxiously earnest love-letter to the U.S. military.
Director Peter Berg wastes little time fawning over the discipline and endurance required to cut it as a SEAL. The opening credit sequence is composed entirely of real boot camp footage, where men are pushed to the breaking point and those who can't cut it are forced to ring a brass bell three times to announce to the world that they've washed out. The emotions are real, the pain is visceral, and I would have loved to watch that documentary for 90-minutes. But instead we watch four bearded Hollywood actors pretending to be brothers-in-arms long past their training days. In some ways, that opening sequence almost sets them up to fail.
Thus begins our slice-of-life section of the film, which you no doubt considered obligatory after reading all those do-it-yourself screenwriting books stashed in your office. We learn that some of the guys have girlfriends, or wives, or families, and that everyone is basically a really good person.
But here's the biggest problem: in a story that can't really foreshadow plot, set up antagonists, or give any of these doomed patriots a proper character arc without losing all credibility, you ended up with a fragmented film that feels like it's spinning its wheels for the first 30 minutes. The only real suspense is finding out which of these characters will get tangled up in the fateful Operation Redwing (though, if you recognize the actor, that's a pretty good hint).
Mark Walhberg, as the film's star, is of course a shoe-in for the mission (as the opening flash-forward confirms). I'll admit, he's an actor I often like. But I don't love him like you clearly do. After only a year as a development executive, this is already your third film with him (after Broken City and 2 Guns). And unfortunately, as in those other efforts, he seems to be giving you exactly the minimum amount required for the role. In fact, like all the characters in the film (Taylor Kitch, Emile Hirsh, Ben Foster, etc), no matter how much they talk about wanting to buy Arabian horses for their fiancees or just "pay the bills," we never really care about them until they start taking a beating. That's where the film really picks up, when the action begins to speak louder than the cliches.
See, this film was undoubtedly bought and sold (and subsequently made) on two compelling plot points. The first: a decision the men have to make when they stumble upon a group of Afghan farmers who might give away their position. The second plot point kicks us into the third act. I won't spell it out (ok, maybe you can spoil a movie called Lone Survivor), but it's a moment of great importance, and is relevant to the very title of the film. Yet for some reason, its execution feels strangely weightless and glossed-over.
As it stands, the most memorable scenes are the obvious ones: the soldiers taking inhuman leaps from high cliffs and absorbing ungodly amounts of bullets. It's impossible not to feel for them, but with nothing of substance - no mood or energy or thoughtfulness - outside of the slam-bang action scenes, the whole film feels a little too staged.
But I guess that's just how you Hollywood execs see the theatre of war.