I’ve described elsewhere on this blog what a shit person I am to watch war films with. As a military historian who has also spent the last thirty years as a professional soldier, I am undeniably finicky about what constitutes a good war film. My long-suffering wife and children know that if we watch a war film – or a spy film for that matter – they’re going to have to put up with a barrage of sneering and jeering as, for example, a 1950s American tank with a swastika on it is rolled out as a German World War Two King Tiger, or our hero takes out a bad guy at 300 metres with a 9mm pistol. Indeed I’m sufficiently self-aware to dread watching crap war films on my own: I can feel the bile rise as the bullshit piles up and I inevitably find myself having to watch something cheery and life-affirming afterwards just to wash the stupid away.
So it was with some trepidation that I watched an illicit* screener version of ‘Lone Survivor’, starring ‘Marky Mark’ Wahlberg as Marcus Luttrell, a US Navy SEAL who was the lone survivor of a recce patrol gone to ratshit in Afghanistan in June 2005.
It’s actually a classic tale of what can go wrong with supposedly ‘covert’ operations. A four man patrol was inserted to establish an observation post on an Afghan village in an attempt to identify the location of a wanted Taliban leader. They found him but were themselves accidentally compromised by local goat herders, which then kicked off a firefight with the Taliban because the SEALs made the completely correct decision not to kill the goat herders who had bumped into them. In effect, a sort of American ‘Bravo Two Zero’.
I’m not going to put in any spoilers – the title really gives it away – but from a military point of view it was entirely credible. The Navy SEALs are not supermen, the operational fuck-ups are entirely credible and nobody has a magic weapon. It’s authentic, believable, gritty and poignant.
Interestingly, it also portrays the Afghanis with light and shade. The Taliban are the bad guys, obviously, but as the story unfolds we see another heroic side to the Afghan tribal culture and Peter Berg, the director, does not back away from this.
The most comparable film I can think of is Ridley Scott’s ‘Blackhawk Down’ which described the US Special Forces’ big operational screw-up in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993. ‘Lone Survivor’ may be indebted to ‘Blackhawk Down’, but not in a bad way.
So if you feel like going to see an action packed war film that examines some of the important issues and doesn’t hesitate to portray the complications of the Afghan civil war that we have somehow become involved in, I would unreservedly recommend ‘Lone Survivor’. In recompense for having unwittingly viewed an illegal copy, I will be buying the DVD for my library and I will also take my sons to see it.
*It wasn’t me wot downloaded it guv, and I didn’t know what we woz wotching, at first…