"Lone Survivor" movie reviewer completely misses the point
Generally speaking I don’t think much of movie reviews. I don’t honestly remember the last time any one of them said a single thing that impacted my desire to see a movie. The only one I like is Stephen Hunter of the Washington Post, and only because I love his books. (His book Point of Impact remains my favorite in that genre, which was turned into the movie “Shooter” with Mark Wahlberg.) So, the ridiculousness of this review of “Lone Survivor” by Kyle Smith in the New York Post is unlikely to have any effect on me except the fact it annoyed me this morning.
If a movie in which every Navy SEAL but one dies violently can be a feature-length recruitment video, “Lone Survivor” is it. There hasn’t been this bizarre mixture of hooah and death since John Wayne hung up his combat boots.
First off, “hooah” is an Army thing, not a Navy SEAL thing. Second of all, this story is a true life story, whereas John Wayne’s combat boots were props.
Nonetheless, he continues:
Writer-director Peter Berg, the “Friday Night Lights” creator (and evidently one of Hollywood’s more patriotic voices) is fascinated, maybe even a little awed, with the rigor and camaraderie of the famously skilled SEALs. A training-camp sequence emphasizes agony and brotherhood in equal measure, and the takeaway from the film is that the latter is well worth the former. Put me down as not quite convinced.
I don’t even know how to address this one. What startles me is that Mr. Smith was actually a soldier himself, leading a platoon in the Gulf War. What I also found ironic is that he is from East Longmeadow Mass, which is funny because one of my dearest friends is from that idyllic town in Western Mass, and he’s my friend specifically because he was my brother in arms. I look back at some of the agonizing moments in my military career (which are so diminished compared to SEALs that it’s like comparing the sun with a Christmas tree bulb) and I marvel at how in those worst moments what kept me going was the brotherhood. My worst day ever was a field training exercise at Fort Bragg when I had poison ivy everywhere, and we’d run out of water hours ago. And the order came for a 10k slog to another location. My alpha team leader (the great James Magnanelli) looked up at my on the march, smiled, and thanked me for inviting him to this lovely tea party. To this day I remember that as the most cathartic laugh of my life.
This is by far the most baffling passage of the review:
Luttrell and squadmates Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) and Matt “Axe” Axelson (Ben Foster) are sent into the mountains on a mission to assassinate a Taliban leader. Instead, they are surprised by shepherds, which leaves them the seeming only options of killing these civilians or letting them go and risk having their cover blown to the enemy. The shepherds yield clues that they might be informers.
The most disturbing element of Berg’s script is that he seems to think the former course would have been the wiser one: Troops should waste any civilian who might be with the bad guys. War is messy, but it’s also not an excuse for wanton slaughter.
It’s not a script choice bud, that’s what Marcus has been talking about for the past 7 years, any time someone would listen. 60 Minutes just did an entire segment on how conflicted Marcus felt about it. It wasn’t a plot device, it was what really happened. I did a few events with Marcus back in 2007 when we were part of the same veterans group, and he talked about this decision then. The movie is about Marcus, how can you tell the story of what he went through without exploring this horrible “Sophie’s Choice” moment?
But to what end? This is a movie about an irrelevant skirmish that ended in near-total catastrophe, during a war we are not winning. The nearest analogue I could think of was “Black Hawk Down,” but Ridley Scott’s dirge didn’t affect the larkish tone of Berg’s, in which every man seems to think he’s in a merry adventure. Pull back a bit from the jingoism and it’s hard to see what was purchased with so much brave young blood.
Did he want them to end with some song and dance number like Blazing Saddles? Anyone who thinks Marcus’ book, or the movie is about the skirmish has so completely missed the point that I can’t imagine what they were reading or saw. The movie is about the Brotherhood. That’s it. It’s about Marcus, and how every day he misses Axe and Danny and Michael Patrick Murphy. It’s about the lengths that men will go to defend and protect their brothers. It’s a story based on the Biblical passage that “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends.”
I linked to this on my Facebook page with my belief that “Wow does this dude not get it.” My battle buddy and true life hero Jim Schwille quickly chimed in with words that really struck me:
He was forced to sit through a movie that did nothing but show him just how far from a man he really is. His shame and jealousy just come out in his writing.
He’s right, and it burned my anger away when I read it. I feel bad for someone who can’t see the love that permeates Marcus’ story. It wasn’t a pointless movie about an “irrelevant skirmish” it was about the love that men in combat can have for each other, and the horrific decisions we are forced to make in those situations. Even the title of Marcus’ book makes it clear: Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of Seal Team 10 . The emphasis is clear that Operation Redwing is the setting, but the book is about the “Lost Heroes” including the one who lived to tell the story.
I haven’t been to the theater in ages, but I will go see this. And sit in the back because it’s entirely likely I will have misty eyes watching what they went through, and thinking of the friends I had that I know would have done the same for me.