Lone Survivor has everything going for it to make it a Hollywood success. It is a gritty, often gory, account of a real U.S. mission in Afghanistan. It is a story based off of the first hand account of the mission as reported in the bestselling book written by the real life hero of the film. It also stars Mark Whalberg and surges with the kind of heroic patriotism that is appealing across the United States to movie goers. It is predicted to make 35 million dollars this weekend, and after Friday’s sales seems poised to uphold this prediction. Lone Survivor is a box office success, but is it a box office success only or also a great movie that should be mentioned come Oscar season?
Some will relate this movie to director Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar nominated film Zero Dark Thirty. Two movies which show unbelievable courage and suspense in the midst of the violence and pressure our soldiers were facing and do not edit out the gory details.
But that is where the comparisons pretty much end. These two movies could only be more different if they were depicting different eras in US military history. Zero Dark Thirty paid detailed attention to the bureaucratic anxiety that weighed down its stories mission. It also explored the mundane perplexities facing the men about to undertake the film’s central action. No one will question Lone Survivor’s ability to recreate the war the way it was for the soldiers, and rightfully so. Many veterans and current military employees have come out in support of the film and its true portrayal of what it is like to serve.
However, after a short opening sequence involving main character Marcus Luttrell the film mostly rides on the kind of action suspense and gore that robs it of being a great movie and instead merely being a well executed action movie. Lone Survivor will be remembered for being an intense movie experience and many will rightfully praise it for letting civilians learn more about what military life is like. It is a patriotic salute to our brave men and women, a completely valid reason to make a movie. However, that is not what they give out Oscars for so do not be surprised if Lone Survivor is left off the ballot at the Academy Awards.
All war movies do not have to be anti-violence. There are certainly plenty of well executed pictures that praise military involvement, although admittedly many of them do come from a different era of Hollywood. But Lone Survivor seems to stay clear of the kinds of situations that raise ambiguity in a film and make the audience begin to think. One scene that captures this complexity is when Luttrell is captured by the enemy and must listen to people debate his chance of survival in a foreign language. These are the types of scenes that make great movies great. Well executed action movies are easy to come by these days in Hollywood, ultimate recognition for your artistic success usually comes from being able to tell a story that confuses, intrigues, and suspends the audience.
There is little doubt about any of the action that is about to take place in Lone Survivor, we know the story we are just waiting for it to play out. Although it is a well done film, it will remain a box office sensation and a straightforward account of an important event in American history. Lone Survivor’s box office success does not make it a great artistic achievement in the form of a movie, if anyone really cares about that sort of thing anyways.
By Nick Manai