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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Lone Survivor

June 1st, 2014

Lone Survivor - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack

Lone Survivor came out for an Oscar-qualifying run late in December of 2013, which seemed odd, because it didn't look like the typical Oscar-bait movie. However, it actually picked up a couple of Oscar nominations (for technical categories) and more impressively earned a WGA nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, as well as SAG Award for Best Stunts. This lifts the expectations, but is this for the best? Does the film truly rise above the action genre?

The Movie

The film begins with a training montage of several soldiers going through Navy Seal training, training that most of the soldiers won't be able to complete. We then see Marcus Luttrell returning from a mission, on a stretcher and nearly flatlining. The film then flashes back three days while we get to learn about some of the men on base and what they are like.

They soon learn about the mission from the commander, Lieutenant Commander Erik S. Kristensen that the mission is to find and take out a tier one target, Ahmad Shah, a Taliban warlord who has been responsible for attacks against coalition forces in the north. Leading the way is Lieutenant Michael P. "Murph" Murphy, who will be accompanied by two snipers, Marcus Luttrell and Matthew "Axe" Axelson, as well as the communication specialist, Danny Dietz. They are dropped in by helicopter where they begin their hours long mountain trek to the village where Ahmad Shah is believed to be. Once there, they will contact J-Bad and Lieutenant Commander Kristensen will come in with enough troops to get Ahmad Shah and any Taliban with him.

The trek to their final location goes really smoothly with the only real trouble being the bad static when calling back to base, but that was something they were expecting. Unfortunately, when they arrive, things are not as planned. The spot they were supposed to use to check out the village doesn't have a very clear look, so they will have to find a new spot in the nearby mountains. It is not a long hike and they have time to get there, but it does mean they won't have as much time to dig in and due to the mountains, they aren't able to to radio home base to tell them their new position. Axe and Danny head up the mountain to try and get a better radio contact, but it is mostly a waiting game.

Unfortunately, while they are waiting they are spotted by a goat herder and his two sons. The team knows they have two options, neither of which are good. They can kill the three Afghan to prevent them from giving away their positions, which would be immoral at the very least and would almost assuredly lead to blowback. Or they could abandon the mission and get out of there as fast as they can, which would very likely lead to them getting discovered by the Taliban. They go with option two. Since the movie is called Lone Survivor, it isn't a spoiler to say what happens next, but the exact way it plays out is too far into spoiler territory to continue.

I recently reviewed Dan Curtis' Dracula and one of the points I brought up was the lack of suspense hurt the film. We know Dracula is a vampire, but the film still took 20 minutes to reveal that fact. This is the case here as well. The film is called Lone Survivor and there's only one actor on the cover of the Blu-ray. You can probably guess how the movie turns out. This does mean a lot of the movie is waiting for things to go south in a terrible way and when they do, there's almost no dialogue and any character development we had is done. Unfortunately, there's not a lot of character development to begin with. We learn almost nothing about these characters. One has an upcoming wedding and his fiancée wants an Arabian horse. Another is married and has begun an interior decorating spree and other others think that's a sign she is nesting and therefore pregnant. That's really all we learn about the four members of the team. It makes it hard to really feel an emotional connection to them before the action starts.

When the action does start, we do have some amazingly well-staged action scenes. There are so many of them that it begins to feel like a grind to get through them. (And yes, I'm aware how much of a wimp that makes me sound like. After all, these four men had to deal with this in real life while I found watching the movie tiresome in the end.) I can understand why this film earned a SAG Award for Best Stunts. This movie doesn't make war look like a video game. It really shows you all of the impacts and really lets you hear them as well. The intensity can't be denied. Unfortunately, without characters that are fully developed, we don't have an emotional connection to these men as the fight goes on. It is still very good, but not as good as its WGA nomination would suggest.

The Extras

Extras on the DVD are limited to a five-minute behind-the-scenes featurette and a four-part, 16-minute featurette on the real life soldiers who died during this mission. The Blu-ray has this, plus a few more exclusive extras. Will of the Warrior runs 28 minutes long and it focuses on the real life Marcus Luttrell and his involvement in the movie. Recreating the Firefight is a ten-minute making of featurette that looks at the stunts, Learning the Basics is a six-minute look at the basic training the actors had to go through in order to portray Navy Seals in the movie. Finally, there's The Pashtun Code of Life, a four minute look at the villagers that helped Marcus Luttrell in the end and what their code of honor means.

The technical presentation is simply amazing. If it isn't presentation level quality, it is damn close. The film was shot digitally and the level of clarity is unbelievable, especially in close-ups. The colors are amazing, there's no digital artifacts or compression issues. It looks fantastic. The audio is just as good with excellent clarity and superb use of the surround sound speakers. The last half of the film is practically an extended firefight and the sound of bullets whipping by your head is done extremely well.

The Blu-ray costs $18, which is just 3 cents more than the DVD.

The Verdict

Lone Survivor isn't Award-worthy, but it is still much better than most war movies. It is much more realistic and that helps. The DVD doesn't have enough extras so it is only worth a rental, but the Blu-ray Combo Pack is worth picking up.

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Filed under: Video Review, Lone Survivor, Mark Wahlberg, Eric Bana, Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch, Taylor Kitsch, Marcus Luttrell, Yousuf Azami