World War II’s iconic war movies were A Walk in the Sun (1945) and Battleground (1949). For the time, they were impressive pieces of work. But what they didn’t do was to capture the intensity and violence of battle. They were a lot of talk and not a lot of action. And what action there was was mostly noise and shots of actors feigning being shot. What neither had were blood and the realistic violence of a battle to the death.
This, on the other hand, really and truly captures the horror and finality of real battle. The first hour constitutes the setup of an ambush conducted by U.S. Navy SEALS on a bad Taliban (pardon the redundancy) leader, notorious Ahmad Shah.
To the film’s credit it devotes a relatively small, but eye-opening, amount of time to what SEALs have to go through to get accepted. That ordeal is fascinating and almost worth the price of admission, leading to an incredible amount of respect for the men who make the grade.
The film then introduces the four SEALS as they get ready for the planned attack. Then things go terribly wrong and the last hour is a tense battle for survival.
The battle is not just intense; it’s graphic and bloody, although it avoids the sensationalism that less talented directors feel obligated to insert in terms of graphic, stomach-turning scenes. This is war and it’s what our fighting men face every time they venture forth in Afghanistan.
Brilliantly written and directed by Peter Berg from the autobiographical book by Marcus Luttrel and Patrick Robinson, the technical aspects of the film are astonishing. Berg gets wonderful performances by Mark Wahlberg (Lutrell), Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster, and Taylor Kitsch as the four SEALS, all of whom went through SEALs-type training for several weeks. Although clearly not as rigorous as what real SEALs applicants must endure, it was still rough.
Special mention must be made of four-time Emmy winner Gregory Nicotero and Oscar®-winner Howard Berger, who were responsible for the amazing special makeup effects that showed all the wounds the SEALs suffered during the battle, which were many, severe, and, in three cases, fatal. In fact, the makeup was one of the more important aspects of the movie outside of the acting.
Filmmakers shouldn’t have spoilers in the title, for heaven’s sake, even if the film is based on a best-selling book and the filmmakers assume everyone knows what happened. Everybody doesn’t. Worse, I wish that the title didn’t telegraph the ending because I think the deaths would have been far more shocking had they been unanticipated. As it is, the viewer, who might not have any knowledge of Lutrell or his book, knows exactly what happened, especially since the opening scene is of Lutrell as he is rescued. Why telegraph the ending? It’s like making a whodunit but telling the audience whodunit in the title or the opening scene.
That said, even though one knows the outcome from the get-go it’s not enough to ruin the movie because it is so well done. This is a movie that stays with you long after you leave the theater.