Wednesday, January 1, 2014

OSCAR WATCH: Lone Survivor

No year is complete without a major war movie and 2013 was no different. Arriving at the end of the year, "Lone Survivor" seemed to have gotten lost in the blitz of holiday releases. The critics didn't come to its rescue and audiences are perhaps feeling fatigue over contemporary war dramas. However, I still believe it's a film worth considering.

The film is directed by Peter Berg, who many of you may know from last year's reviled flop "Battleship". Of course, that's not an encouraging sign but make no mistake, this guy has talent. Despite his uneven filmography, Berg has a lifetime pass from me for creating "Friday Night Lights", one of the best TV series of all time. With that in mind, I was happy to see that this film is much more in line with his work on that under-seen, but highly acclaimed show.

"Lone Survivor" tells the harrowing true story of a team of Navy SEALs sent on a dangerous mission to capture a Taliban leader in Afghanistan. As you can probably imagine from the film's title, it doesn't have the happiest of outcomes. Don't tell that to Berg however, as he seems intent on having us believe that everything will turn out fine. He employs his unique humanist style of directing here, which makes him both an inspired and unusual fit for this story. Specifically, he's an expert at handling tender emotional moments but he struggles with creating the tension required for an action film. You quickly get the sense that he loves his characters dearly, not wanting to make their imminent danger feel to be too palpable. This is perfectly exposed in the way he opens the film - reverent real-life footage, sentimental correspondence with loved ones, male bonding. He puts all his heart and soul into scenes like these, much more than when he's required to stage the big action sequences.

As much as Berg would like to ignore it however, this is first and foremost a war movie and this particular story requires some big action scenes. To his credit, he does direct the shootouts pretty well. Still, that lack of tension is a problem when the men aren't engaged in combat. Berg loves his wide shot vistas (especially with a sunrise or sunset in the background) but it ends up feeling too glossy and pretty for this material. The film definitely needed some more grit considering the bleakness being depicted.

Even with all of these issues, Berg's elegant direction keeps this film at a fairly high quality. Kudos to Mark Wahlberg as well, who admirably carries the tail end of this film and delivers its powerful conclusion. The film may not satisfy those hoping for a landmark war epic, but this is a remarkable true story that deserves to be seen.

Universal Pictures is hoping for Oscar attention for this film, but that will be hard to come by. It will certainly be a challenge for it to make the cut for Best Picture. The sound categories are perhaps more likely, but I get the feeling they'll be filled with major Best Picture contenders and bigger, louder blockbusters. Its sound design is certainly deserving but the buzz for the film is just too quiet. There's still some hope though, so keep an eye out for "Lone Survior" come nomination morning.


  1. Good review Shane. This is a lot meatier and more emotional than most of the crappy, propaganda war-flicks I usually see, but it's Oscar chances seem just a bit slim. Maybe a nod for Best Adapted Screenplay, maybe?

    1. Thanks. The film just got a WGA nod for Best Adapted Screenplay, so maybe you're right!

  2. I'm sure this film is more popular with Republicans than Democrats. Berg made us connect with the characters by connecting the characters to their loved ones. I wrote a short essay on Lone Survivor called "The Rules of War." If you would like to read it, here is the link: