Lone Survivor Review: Need to buy some Wooden Crosses? I have some in stock in the back. (said with a stereotypical Jewish accent)

Hello. This is a Korean in America. Today, I am reviewing a new movie from the director of the acclaimed “Battleship”, “Lone Survivor”.

Yes, I am being sarcastic!

I am a Korean and this will review will represent an outsider’s viewpoint regarding a movie based on real events.

There are movies that are made for obvious propaganda and nationalistic reasons. As movies that are purely targeting native audiences, these movies can rub audiences of other nationalities in the wrong way. They complain about the obvious nationalism in the movie and the insensitivity regarding other nationalities. As Hollywood has made a living cranking out those types of movies, Hollywood movies have been the primary target of those complaints.

However, what the complainers do not really think about is that once a nation has accumulated enough confidence/nationalism, all nations make obvious nationalistic and insensitive towards other nationalities movies. That is the manner in which nationalism works.

It is the “The pot calling the kettle black”.

So, I do not mind Hollywood movies with obviously patriotic tones.  It is lovely that people feel patriotic towards their country. Actually, I do find patriotic Hollywood movies more interesting than, let’s say, Korean patriotic movies.

First, Hollywood movies tend to be more fun and have a strong narrative focus.  Second, while actual Americans may not notice, but American entertainment mediums, which include movies, tend to inherently be more self-reflective compared to, let’s say, Korean mediums.

For someone looking from the outside, it is obvious. American entertainment mediums consistently try to find the meaning of an event and of an individual’s actions. I think a short history, the multicultural nature, and individualism drive American entertainment mediums to search for meaning. 

As a result, many well-made patriotic Hollywood movies have a lot of self-reflective detail in them that make the movie more interesting beyond just the action. This is the attitude I took into the theater that was playing, “Lone Survivor”.

This is war, Peacock. Casualties are inevitable. You can not make an omelet without breaking some eggs, every cook will tell you that.”
Clue (1985) – Colonel Mustard (Martin Mull)

What is “Lone Survivor”?
The movie is sold to the audience as a patriotic Hollywood action movie.

And it is… to a degree.
But, at the same time… not really.

Seeing the advertisement of “Lone Survivor”, you may think of movies such as “Black Hawk Down”. However, this is not really a traditional Hollywood action movie.

It is really a passion play using U.S. Navy seals as stand-ins for saints.

The most famous recent Passion play movie is “The Passion of the Christ” that came out in 2004. I was constantly reminding of “The Passion of the Christ” while sitting in the theater.
According to Wikipedia, a Passion play is

a dramatic presentation depicting the Passion of Jesus Christ: his trial, suffering and death”.

In other words, Passion plays are intended to make Jesus’ or saint’s suffering and thus immortalizing Jesus or saint in the minds of the audiences through internalizing the suffering and the subsequent guilt.

Once again, “Lone Survivor” is a passion play for U.S. Navy seals…

The plot
As with Passion plays, “Lone Survivor” barely has any plot. You have navy seal going into capture or kill some Taliban warlord. The mission goes south and the Seal team needs to make a decision with some moral issues.

This is the “Trial” part of the passion play.

The consequence of this decision is that they are chased for like an hour in the movie with serious damages to their bodies and bleeding all the way.

This is the “Suffering” part of the passion play.

As the title indicates, everyone on the Seal team, rescue team, and some of the civilians die except the “Lone Survivor”.

This is the “Death” part of the passion play.

You literally do not need to know anything else since there is no more plot in “Lone Survivor”. There is a minor subplot regarding an afghan civilian who is used to do a Deus ex machine ending but it is so under developed that it is embarrassing to call it a subplot.

U.S. Navy seals in a passion play
The lack of plot is the same for “The Passion of the Christ”. That movie had barely any plot also since an actual plot would hinder the purpose of a Passion play. You do not need to know the geopolitical reasons for the Crucifixion of Jesus. He is Jesus so you already have an in to the story. You have the son of God suffering because of your sins. That’s the only thing you need.

The movie basically treats the U.S. Navy seals in the same manner. The U.S. Navy seals are basically a household name since they have been frequently used in action movies. So the movie assumes that there is an obvious in for the audience which is not natural.

However, it is no that obvious. This assumption is rather lazy.

The U.S. Navy seals are the human heroes that do superhuman feats for AMERICA! By putting them into a passion play, “Lone Survivor” is trying to say that U.S. Navy seals are suffering and dying for you Americans. Thus, you should be idolize them and feel guilty that you are sitting in the theater with your jumbo size popcorn dripping in fake butter.

Americans traditionally love to fight. All real Americans love the sting of battle. When you were kids, you all admired the champion marble shooter, the fastest runner, big league ball players, the toughest boxers. Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Americans play to win all the time.”
Patton (1970) – General George Patton (George C. Scott)

Is being a passion play a bad thing for “Lone Survivor”?
Lone Survivor” has some serious issues. The main thing is that the U.S. Navy seals are not a good fit for a passion play.


While the U.S. Navy seals are humans that do superhuman feats, they are not saints.

Far from it!

By their job description, they are soldiers. Not only does this make them killers, by being elite Special Forces, they are super killers.  The highest virtue for them is to do their job with the highest degree of expertise training and good genes can provide. It is not their purpose to suffer although it is sometimes a consequence of poor luck and just the job.

However, the movie focuses on the suffering in accordance to the formula of passion plays!

About 40 minutes into the movie,  all of the plot is disposed of in the first act. The second act and most of the third act is just the U.S. Navy seals suffering. Every single one of them at least gets shot 5 times and they fall of rock cliffs at least twice. Any single thing should have killed them but they still go on.

These are not like typical action movie injuries in which getting shot is like getting bitten by the mosquito too. The U.S. Navy seals have more realistic injuries with all of the pain associated with realistic injuries.

But they do not die. They just slow down a little bit and keep going.

While we can admire the Seal team for going on like an “Energizer Bunny”, this means that we, the audience, suffers along with them and that is not really what we want to see from our special forces in a movie. However, I can accept this to a degree. It is something new.  What makes things worse is that the suffering has not point to it.

From what you see on screen, there is no chance that anyone goes home alive. There is no exit plan. It is not really even likely that their bodies would get back to their loved ones. However, they are still going on even though all of them should have died like 30 minutes ago realistically. This means that they are just suffering without a purpose.

How should you process this?

In case of Jesus, the suffering had a point to it. He is suffering to save your soul. But, with the U.S. Navy seals, there is no point as shown in the movie. The mission already failed due to bad luck, poor communication, and a bad decision made the commander of the U.S. Navy seal team. So, by keeping us feel their over exaggerated and over extending suffering, it just feels like stubborn incompetence after a point.

So after a while, the suffering gets irritating and makes you feel a little resentful. About 80 minutes in to the movie, it felt like a good time for the U.S. Navy seal team to bite into a suicide pill or blow up a grenade while holding it to end their and our suffering.

I’m Korean so I do not have a romance of suicide like the Japanese!

Where does these problems originate?

The director, Peter Berg… creator of the movie “Battleship”
 “Lone Survivor” is a miles better movie than the movie “Battleship” which was a giant train wreck. However, Peter Berg’s presentation is no more subtle and his understanding of the events is no more insightful than what he displayed in “Battleship” which has the U.S. navy fighting aliens.

In accordance with the objective of a passion play, Peter Berg focuses on the Seal team members using a lot of close up. However, the Seal team members are just pop up caricatures of people rather than actual characters. The actors even look similar with all of the facial hair. I could not remember any of their names throughout the movie and it did not really matter.

What is more serious is that I had no idea of who was at what rank and what the command structure was within the Seal team. In a military movie, these factors define the characters’ identities and group interaction. This is the result of the director’s incompetence presentation. He does not understand the military and just fetishizes the glamour and machismo. Remember he is the person who made a enlisted sailor a commander in like 2 years in “Battleship”.

Another thing Peter Berg made a mess of was where to place the blame for the suffering which is an important factor in passion plays. In traditional passion plays, the blame is put on the Jews. In “Lone Survivor”, Peter Berg seems to be trying to put the blame on both the Taliban and the U.S. Military. However, this is a problem.

In regard to the Taliban, they are portrayed as just comic book bad guys who can be easily replaced by, let’s say, aliens or Cobra from G.I. Joe comic. Thus, it is difficult to take them seriously when trying to place blame for a suffering that feel serious.

In regard to the U.S. Military, the movie tries insinuate that the lack of support resulted in the death of the Seal team. However, if you really look at the move and how the series of events is portrayed, this does not make sense as it would not have mattered where the helicopters were.  I am talking just from what I saw in the movie since I do not know what happened in reality.

The mission was somewhat complicated.
The communication was terrible which happens in most military fiascos.
And there were poor luck.

However, from what I saw on screen, the real blame should be put on the commander of the Seal team.

He made a stupid decision!

Once again, I’m just going with what I saw in the movie. The actual situation may have been different and movie may have over simplified it. But, with only the information from the movie, it seems like he choked from the getting cut off from command and he made a stupid decision.

Peter Berg tries to make the decision a result of moral inquiry.  However, there were many other solutions that would have resulted in a much better outcome than what was actually done.

In other words, it was a stupid decision that got everyone killed. To be frank, if the Seal team died in the first 10 minutes after the mission went south, a lot of people from both sides and from the civilian population would be alive with basically the same strategic consequences.

So, as a passion play, these Navy Seals do not fit.

Does “Lone Survivor” work as an action movie?
 It is just meh.

There are bullets flying around and explosions. However, there is no context to the action. What is worse is that the choreography is not good. This is how the action goes in  “Lone Survivor”.

The camera focuses on a character or a group of characters.

 Suddenly an enemy just pops up out from nowhere and get killed with one shot from the Seals and are not seen again.

The camera goes back to the character to show he is hit by a shot from somewhere off screen.

Go back and Repeat!

Other than the Seal team’s suffering, the action feels like the action out of a Video game from the 2000s. Enemies pop up infinitely until you move to another location in the game.

In regard to cinematography, there are great shots of both military assets and outdoor wilderness shots. However, these shots do not gel nicely within the narrative as it feels like Peter Berg tried to shove in a helicopter shot or a mountain shot anywhere he could. The result is that those shots, whole being gorgeous, feel pornographic in a way.

Military weapons and macho porn!

 At the end
Lone Survivor” is a passion play with U.S. Navy seals as its protagonist based on real events. Thus, the objective is to make the audience feel the suffering on screen. In this manner, Lone Survivor”  is OK.
However, the script is not good with a lot of military clichés and stupid low brow Hollywood action logic. While the movie starts out with a more serious tone, the longer the movie plays, it becomes more stupid. The worst offender is the   3rd act climax which is basically a Deus ex machine and is very anti-climactic.

Lone Survivor” is a just ok movie about a serious story made by the least subtle director who thinks he is making a serious movie but is just making a low brow action movie.

Score: C+


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