In "Lone Survivor," director and writer Peter Berg takes on the same elements of the American spirit that made his "Friday Night Lights" so powerful: loyalty, commitment, trust, brotherhood, love and devotion. And, just as he did with his examination of high school football in Texas, Berg looks at these elements through a human filter, this time using a story about war and remembrance.
That combination gives "Lone Survivor" much more emotional weight than other films in the action-drama genre.
In the production based on a true story, Mark Wahlberg plays Marcus Luttrell, one of four Navy SEALs sent on what becomes an ill-fated covert mission to deal with a high-level member of the Taliban. The four SEALs must depend on each other to survive a battle — the likes of which hasn't been staged with such honest brutality since the opening sequence of "Saving Private Ryan."
What makes the movie so brutal are the central players. Berg doesn't get bogged down with history lessons on each of the SEALs, but he does give just enough insight into each to make them come across as honorable warriors and not just faceless pawns being used to create the action.
Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster turn in top-notch performances as the other members of the team. The best example of how "Lone Survivor" is more than just a typical action movie comes in the discussion the four men have when they face some deep moral questions regarding their mission. A lesser film would have taken a more gung-ho approach. But Berg continues to show a great skill in making the characters in his movies as three-dimensional as possible.
In the middle of all the carnage, Berg never lets the movie waiver off its main objective — to honor and respect the brave men and women who face such scenarios for real. It's a difficult task to make a military movie where there's plenty of flag waving while not going so far as to glamorize war. "Lone Survivor" does this by showing deep respect for humanity while pulling no punches on the battlefield.
Berg also doesn't let the film sink into the standard good vs. evil. He shows that the difference between a person who wants to kill you or save you is a thin spiritual line.
Just like "Friday Night Lights" couldn't be easily passed off as a typical sports film, "Lone Survivor" doesn't fit the standard military movie mold. That's because Berg takes the story past the superficial to the personal.
"Lone Survivor," rated R for language, war violence, graphic images. Stars Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster, Eric Bana. Directed by Peter Berg. Running time: 121 minutes. Grade: B
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.