Marcus Luttrell and his team set out on a mission to capture or kill notorious Taliban leader Ahmad Shah, in late June 2005. Marcus and his team are left to fight for their lives in one of the most valiant efforts of modern warfare.
Running Time: 2hrs
MPAA Rating: R
by Jules Brenner for Cinema Signals
Director Peter Berg employs a “Dirty Dozen” (1962) dramatic structure for his latest combat story in his series of military ennoblement adventures with four heroes, not twelve. Which allows him a fuller bonding experience with each of them, prior to the hell they’re to face in this adaptation of the first person account in Marcus Lttrell’s and Patrick Robinson’s Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10″ (Nov 19, 2013). Luttrell being the one brought out alive.
In this format, the introduction of characters is key to the tight bond and comradeship of the men, which is expressed through soldier chatter that’s part homespun, part locker room humor and machismo, all quick and glib. Testosterone aplenty. Anything but the mission.
The only problem here is that the interior person under the uniform isn’t pierced by that glib front, though the mere fact of their being part of this SEAL team serves the purpose of commanding interest and high expectations. The audience for this isn’t looking for Ibsen. Berg, as the writer and director allows a sliver of emotional context with a soldier’s glimpse of loved ones at home.
In any case, if the intros seem slick, the action we’re about to see will leave no question about the courageousness under fire which each stalwart man possesses.
The team includes Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), a Hospital Corpsman; Lt. Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch); Danny P. Dietz (Emile Hirsch), Gunner’s Mate; and Matthew “Axe” Axelson (Ben Foster), Sonar Technician. At base is their next in command, Lt. Cmdr. Erik S. Kristensen (Eric Bana).
Once our interest in these exceptional men is established, they’re on the heli that will drop them into a hostile Afghanistan zone (2005), armed and ready, with the intent of taking revenge on Ahmad Shah (Yousuf Azami), a Taliban leader responsible for the deaths of American comrades. But, when the squad silently and tactically moves within sight of the compound where the targetted commander is seen training his men, they realize the mission is going to be far different than anticipated.
With phone signals going out in the mountainous terrain, barring them from calling in an exfiltration, a fight for their lives begins with an unpredictable event that tests the Rules of Engagement as codified in the Geneva Convention. In this situation there is no clear choice for a safe and morally correct course of action.
The central questions then become, (a) how a team of our elite warriors acquit themselves in an almost endless bloodbath of hellish proportions and (b) does decency and humanity exist among the citizens of this forlorn country?
The answer to (a) as depicted by Berg, has the ring of dramatization and exxageration. It’s a script that’s selective and intensified for maximum effect, but I hasten to add, gripping, as well.
Contributing to the veracity of what it takes to be on a SEAL team, Berg employs stunt work like you’ve never seen when escape from an enemy fusilade means rolling uncontrollably down a steep mountain strewn with rocks and trees. Sound effects and drumbeat music is made so convincing by Colby Parker Jr’s brilliant editing that you wonder how the actors came home.
The answer to (b) is a game changer that turns the thrust of the story right into the lap of decency and humanity.
It’s clear that two components of Berg’s talent lie in the areas of casting and the level of energy, intensity and dedication he challenges his actors to maintain. You see it in the portrayal of strict military excellence and grueling physical demands to which Wahlberg brings his best game. This was no easy firefight to replicate.