Movie Review: Lone Survivor

LoneSurvivorby Brad Nelson   1/13/14
Remember those days when you could just blast your way through the Germans and take names later? Well, those days are obviously over.

Mark Wahlberg heads a non-star cast of Navy Seals who are on scout duty to set up the killing or capture of a couple of top-level Taliban guys. This is based on a true story. And no disrespect to the brave men involved, but if this is how our best-trained people operate, we’re in big trouble.

Wahlberg and three other members of SEAL Team 10 take a chopper into the mountains of Afghanistan and land as an advance reconnaissance party to scope out the territory. After doing some reconnaissance work on a hill overlooking a village, they dig in (well, really, they just hide under some tree branches) and wait.

Meanwhile, something comes along that throws these four hardened professionals into a tizzy: A heard of goats and its three shepherds. By the reaction of the SEAL members, you would have thought that they had missed all that rugged training that is shown at the beginning of the film. They are flustered and don’t know what to do. God help them if it was actually the Taliban and not a herd of goats they had come across.

Three of the SEALS act like a group of scared schoolgirls for a few moments until the officer in charge steps in and makes a decision (which you would have thought would have been automatic, coming across civilians being one of the contingencies this well-trained group would have planned for).

And from there the mistakes just avalanche. Because they had been discovered, the officer decides to scrub the mission. Fine. But instead of shooting the three Afghani civilians, tying them up in place or, better yet, taking them with them to the extraction point and then letting them go at the last minute (holding to the American ideal of not killing civilians), these highly-trained SEALS let them go where they are so that they can immediately run to the Taliban.

And thus the chase ensues and it is then just a matter of the SEALS being overcome by overwhelming forces. The movie tries to stitch a “brothers in arms” theme into this as they bravely fall, one by one. But it seems tacked-on. And why in hell the SEALS would not take and try to hold the high ground (or quietly scoot out) when they ran up against superior forces, I don’t know. I hope the book and this movie are different things. The way the SEALS conducted the battle seemed sloppy, haphazard, and unprofessional.

Nor did any of the other operations surrounding the SEALS mission seem at all professional. Their radios don’t work. And when the man-on-the-ground calls the base on an unsecured backup phone to ask for support (because the satellite phone isn’t working), a dumb-ass SEAL on the other end of the line wastes precious time while deciding whether or not to wake up the Colonel.

And when they needed Apache helicopters for search and rescue, they are not available, so they send in a couple of those bigger transport choppers without escort. One of them is promptly shot down. There seemed to be nothing about this mission that was particularly well-planned. And for whatever reason, they take along no medical supplies so they are reduced to sticking dirt into their wounds. Even Obamacare is probably better than this.

This is clearly situation normal, all fouled up. And that’s not to take anything away from the bravery of the SEALS. But they seemed (at least in the movie) more brawn than brains.

Once we get past the “Band of Brothers” stage of the movie, then we come to the “All Muslims aren’t bad” part of the film. Wahlberg (eventually the “lone survivor”) makes his way to the outskirts of a village and is helped by one of the villagers. (And why this villager didn’t shoot the two Taliban guys who were threatening them, I don’t know. Those Taliban guys went back and brought all their forces down on the village and killed many of them.)

Eventually, through the actions of this villager, Wahlberg is saved. Okay, I get it. All Muslims aren’t bad. And if this is based upon a real story, what are you going to do? But, again, this part of the movie felt tacked on.

And I’ve never been in combat, so forgive my ignorance. But is it standard operating procedure (particularly amongst the Taliban) to stand up tall and make yourself a big target while engaging in gunfire? Was the prone position outlawed by the Geneva Convention? Maybe this is how it is in realilty. But it seems unreal. The Mel Gibson war movie, We Were Soldiers, seems to excel at realism. But this one doesn’t.

More tragic still is that this advance party of SEALS could have taken out the two people they were looking for right at the start of their mission. But they had orders not to fire. That was somebody else’s job.

Yes, we owe a lot to these heroes who risk their lives and endure great hardship in order to keep us safe. But don’t you miss those days when heroes were defined by who they did kill instead of who they didn’t? The rules of engagement for these guys is a joke. We’re not playing to win. Our enemies, however, are. This movie may please simply because it is full of gunfire. But otherwise it’s a bit of a dud. • (1413 views)

Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.
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7 Responses to Movie Review: Lone Survivor

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    Unfortunately, bad screw-ups aren’t unusual in military operations; you may recall that the forces landing on Grenada couldn’t communicate directly with their air support due to incompatible radios. Bad insane rules of engagement certainly don’t help. I’m reminded of a Jeff MacNelly cartoon of a Marine wearing the theater service medal for Lebanon (1983) — a sitting duck shooting target. (He wasn’t too t thrilled about the medal.) At least Reagan finally had the sense to get them out of there after 2 truck bombings.

  2. David Ray says:

    ” Even Obamacare is probably better than this.”

    They’d get headaches toiling hours over an idle website. Then in the end . . . They’d be told that maybe it’s just better to go home (foxhole?) and take a pill. – Obama’s words when asked about catastrophic care.

    As for the rest of your review, it confirmed what the painful trailer seemed to be telling me. (I guess Hollywood feels the need to suspend disbelief at full-throttle.)
    Give me Sergeant York, We Were Soldiers, & All Quiet on the Western Front (1979 version).

  3. Timothy Lane says:

    David French has an interesting piece on NRO commenting on some of the more anti-American reviews of the movie by liberals who have no intention of having any idea of what the Taliban is really like.

    • David Ray says:

      WOW! I was just listening to “hate” radio and you are right! Wailing liberals are panning the movie also, but for an entirely divergent reason. Hence . . .
      Brad sees the ham-fisted tactics & hoaky scenarios.
      Liberals see the “jingoism”. (Roger Ebert preferred “Casualties of War”.)

      It reminds me when “The Great Raid” came out in ’05. The liberal bitching reached such a fever pitch, that I decided to go see it.

  4. steve lancaster says:

    I wanted to wait until after I had viewed the movie to comment. Your comments about the movie are in many ways pointed and accurate.

    However, the one thing you all forget is that these seals are still in the military and subject to the UCMJ, uniform code of military justice, and that is the reason for the discussion about what the do with the sheepherders. The ROE, rules of engagement, specifically forbade taking afghan civilians prisoner or killing them.

    The moment they were discovered the mission was blown and the only option was to hump out as quickly as possible. Luttrell and his team were in the worst of all bad situations, surrounded by the enemy inside enemy lines and unable to communicate. That the entire team was not wiped out is a miracle and attributable only to the skill of the seals and assistance of friendlies in enemy country.

    Had the team sent in been agency, or private contractors the outcome would have been much different as the ROE would have been suspended. The mission might have then been successful. There would have been three dead sheepherders.

    Consider also that this was 2005 and the Bush administration was taking a lot of heat over Iraq and dead civilians in an Afghanistan op tied to seals would be politically unacceptable. If I recall this was about the time that several Marines were court marshaled for peeing on Taliban bodies.

    There are no ROE of for the Taliban they can kill wherever, whenever, and whoever they want. We hold our men and women to a higher standard that is often exploited by our enemies. It is a miracle that Luttrell survived.

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