I’m going to break a personal writing rule here and use an expression I loathe. But, honestly, this is the first time I think it actually makes sense: It is what it is.
When the title of a film is Lone Survivor (based on the memoir of the same name), there is very little wiggle room for a plot twist. That being said, the movie nonetheless is a stirring and compelling reenactment of a tragic failed military operation. It doesn’t surprise, but it doesn’t disappoint.
The story is simple and horrifying: Four Navy Seals, Marcus Lutrell (Mark Wahlberg), Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) and Matt Axelson (Ben Foster) are tasked with going into a remote Afghan village and assassinating a Taliban leader. The men have a steely matter-of-fact resolve about their assignment, discussing mundane details from home life like they are punching a clock at a factory job rather than parachuting into one of the most dangerous places on the planet.
Right away, things go wrong. The Seals are stumbled upon by a group of goat-herders, including two children who live in the Taliban-controlled village. Fearing the moral and legal ramifications of killing them, the Seal let the herders go and abort the mission. Now it becomes simply a race to safety as the men try to communicate with their base and evade the alerted enemy.
Surprisingly, what makes this story hit home is the acting. All four men bring a quiet realism to their roles—the less they think of themselves as heroes, the more we do. The movie wisely steers clear of politics and instead focuses on this grueling event and all the people who contributed to the one miraculous survival. It’s a 7.