You're never quite sure what you're going to get from Peter Berg - a director whose CV ranges from the rip-roaring silliness of Battleship to sublime sports film Friday Night Lights. Lone Survivor, however, belongs in the company of the latter, mixing edge-of-the-seat tension with the power of friendship and the terror and horror of war.
Based on Marcus Luttrell's best-selling memoir of the same name, it tells the story of Operation Red Wings, a disastrous mission involving US Navy SEALS in Afghanistan's Kundar province in 2005, which saw 19 American personnel killed. Luttrell (Wahlberg, leading a great cast) and comrades Michael Murphy (Kitsch), Matthew 'Axe' Axelson (Foster) and Danny Dietz (Hirsch) were the advance reconnaissance team, sent in to pinpoint the location of a Taliban leader. Geography and bad luck combined to ensure that the operation became cursed very quickly. What follows is as shocking as it is heart-rending.
Made with the participation of the US Military, Berg's film has been criticised by both the Left and the Right and thus brings to mind that brilliant Bertrand Russell quote about war not determining who is right - only who is left. There is no doubt it will inspire some young people to enlist, but any romanticism will be tempered after the gruelling two hours spent here and, even with dramatic licence, the realities of choosing such a life. But this is a far more powerful film personally than politically, with Berg reducing the bigger issues down to the primacy of keeping yourself and those around you alive. Emotionally, the audience is put through the wringer. Technically, the film deserved far more recognition than its two Oscar nominations in the Sound categories.
While there is no depth to the enemy and the ending feels like it belongs more in Captain America than Captain Phillips, Berg has still delivered his most accomplished work as a filmmaker to date. It is a fitting tribute to its central quartet and an example of the tragedy of young life cut short - something everyone can agree on.