Peter Berg's slack-jawed, two-tone illustrations of war hero Marcus Luttrell's memoir Lone Survivor is a Navy recruiting film that you paid 11 dollars to see. The pre-titles document the training of the Navy SEALS, and the torment they undergo during Hell Week. Then to the base camp in Afghanistan where several grads—actors, bearded and buff like the sticker of the muscular Jesus on an evangelical Christian lug's SUV—get barely introduced to us. They race each other like stallions around the perimeter of the camp, amid the military planes on the runway. Then they hang out waiting for an assignment, talking about the things their crazy wives stateside are getting up to, pricing Arabian horses and redecorating their homes.
The team is sent out to get a Taliban leader called Shah. We see his name written on the whiteboard, the group leader (Eric Bana) pronounces it aloud so we'll remember it, and then we cut to the villain, hetting us all up by dragging out a civilian and hacking off his head. The SEALS are airlifted into the hills to carry out the mission: when they stumble across a trio of goatherds and let them live, it turns out to be a fateful decision. They're surrounded and picked off, one by one.
Lone Survivor is nothing if not good looking: the actors playing war die in slow-mo surrounded by halos of sun-flares and Cabernet-red wound-spray (there's a running joke about color swatches that makes a character critique the redness of his own blood). There is more bullshit about the nobility of war in the mountains in any given frame than there is in the collected works of Hemingway. They expire nobly, backs propped against handsome cedars, under a spotless turquoise sky. The New Mexico scenery does as good a job impersonating Afghanistan as John Wayne did impersonating Genghis Khan. Even the fateful goats look like blue-ribbon prize winners. As Luttrell, Wallberg scrubby-bearded and dogged, outlasts the other victims and endures a fictionalized third act that's every bit as bogus as it looks. SEALS are inarguably brave, Pashtuns inarguably honorable slaves to a code of hospitality—but the end titles' actual pictures of the real warriors (some sobbing over the coffins of their brothers) makes it clear that the obscenity of war is sometimes rivalled by the obscenity of the war movie.
R; 121 min.