FKB’s new weekly article series with recommendations on what to catch in theaters this weekend.
Director: Peter Berg
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch, Taylor Kitsch, Eric Bana, Ali Suliman
As it turns out, I’ve already seen this film so I suppose this counts as a review of sorts.
I must admit, before watching Lone Survivor I had pretty high expectations. Peter Berg is one of the best mainstream action directors working today, evident in his stellar balls-to-the-wall action at the conclusion of his 2007 film The Kingdom. He was also at the helm of The Rundown, the fun actioner set in South American starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Before he made those, however, he made his name as a filmmaker with the solid football drama Friday Night Lights, so he’s not all about mindless action. As a matter of fact, The Kingdom contains some very cerebral, disturbing set pieces that shook me to the core when I first saw them. So you can understand why I had high expectations for Lone Survivor, at least in terms of the action. It turns out this isn’t the type of film you watch to lose yourself in near-impossible escapes and dumb over-the-top blood and guts. This is war. This is hell.
Lone Survivor is based on true events about a small group of U.S soldiers on a mission that becomes compromised and their attempt to fight their way out of the resulting overwhelming ambush. SPOILER ALERT: The title gives the end of the film away, but I’m sure that comes as no surprise. For the majority of its runtime, it’s an intense ride. Berg hasn’t lost his touch for intense action set pieces (although he did have a bit of a misstep with the critical and financial bomb Battleship), but he has certainly amped up the jingoism. Don’t feel bad if you don’t know what that means, I didn’t either until I started researching the film.
Jingoism is defined as “extreme nationalism characterized especially by a belligerent foreign policy; chauvinistic patriotism”, and oh boy, is the film FULL of it. The film opens on documentary footage from “hell week”, where Navy SEAL candidates participate in five and a half days of continuous training, with each candidate sleeping at most four hours during the entire week, running more than 200 miles and participating in physical training for more than 20 hours per day. It left a sour taste in my mouth at the onset, to be honest. I don’t want to watch an advertisement for the U.S. Navy, I want to watch a film. The film has its share of jingoism, but it’s also largely about the bonds of brotherhood and fighting for the man beside you in a bleak situation.Some of the events in the film are hard to believe. If it wasn’t based on true events, I would have called bullshit numerous times throughout the film. Turns out the old saying is accurate, truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.
Back to the cast, everyone is solid. There is a strong sense of wanting to do justice to the fallen soldiers, heroes, that the actors portray. The standout performance for me was Ben Foster, one of the most engaging and intense young actors in film today. He first caught my attention in in the otherwise sub-par Bruce Willis vehicle Hostage as a psychotic home invader. In subsequent films he has never failed to wow me, including his turn as a psychotic gay cowboy in 3:10 to Yuma, a maniacal speed freak in Alpha Dog and a masterful performance in The Messenger. He’s reason alone to watch a film in my book. I know I haven’t gone into much detail about the actual film itself, but keep in mind it’s a pretty straightforward plot. I would be doing you a disservice if I went into the details of the action.
I would like to conclude my review with some final thoughts on my remarks about the jingoistic qualities of the film. As the film goes on and events take place that are nearly impossible to believe (but did actually happen), I realized why the film opens with footage of “hell week”. “Hell week” is about weeding out the strong candidates from the weak. SEAL candidates are put through hell because war is hell. It helped me to believe some of the more incredulous events and realize what incredible feats of endurance and adversity our troops go through overseas in fighting on unfamiliar soil against an unfamiliar enemy. I’m in no way a fan of any of the wars our country is still involved in, but Lone Survivor reminded me of how lucky we are to have men and women who are willing to fight for our freedom, no matter how misguided their missions are.
Lone Survivor is a lean, mean, jingoistic machine, but it has its merits. Unbelievably intense action, great cast, and a lean script contribute to an overall strong war film. It also isn’t completely black and white and does a good job toward the end of balancing the assertion that everyone in a turban in Afghanistan is a “baddie”. I was very pleased with that. Lone Survivor is certainly no Saving Private Ryan, as one ill-advised reviewer compared it to, but it’s not one to be missed.
Director: Spike Jonze
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johanssen (voice), Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde
The first film written and directed by indie auteur Spike Jonze, and his fourth overall, Her follows the story of a withdrawn writer named Theodore Twombly (played by Joaquin Phoenix) who falls in love with his computer’s operating system. The OS is voiced by Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation, Don Jon), who’s already getting rave reviews for her smokey-voiced performance.
Jonze is most well known for his off-kilter early work written by Charlie Kaufmann that included the superb Being John Malkovich and the masterful Adaptation. He followed those with an adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are, an uneven but endearing film that is as fun to watch as I’m sure it was to make. Jonze is never short on creativity. He’s also not a one note artist, as he’s involved as a producer in the Jackass franchise. This guy’s all over the place, in a good way.
Phoenix is always a sure bet as a performer, having hit his acting peak (so far) in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2012 fever dream The Master. He’s been solid throughout his career in films such as Walk The Line and Hotel Rwanda, even going so far into method acting to “retire” from film and reemerge as a “rapper”, culminating in 2010’s interesting but ultimately disappointing pseudo-mockumentary I’m Still Here.
Reviews for the film have been overwhelmingly positive, garnering a 92% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes from critics. Everyone I’ve spoken to who has seen it has had only good things to say about it. With the supporting cast including Amy Adams, Chris Pratt, Rooney Mara and Olivia Wilde, it’s easy to understand why. My biggest reservation about the film is that the premise feels a bit too timely as technology today is getting increasingly personal and intimate. I might have a hard time sitting through two hours of what I find to be quite disturbing, but it’s also a big reason why I watch films in the first place. I want to be challenged, not spoon-fed. If its biggest fault is that it’s too effective, I can’t really count that as a fault, can I?
If you’re still iffy on whether this might be for you, check out Jonze’s 2010 short film I’m Here:
If you don’t care for it, avoid Her. For the rest of you, Jonze is always a reliable choice at the movies. I can’t find any reasons not to check it out.