Review: 'Lone Survivor' tracks the brutality of another mission

It’s pretty hard to beat “Zero Dark Thirty” at the Osama bin Laden game. But “Lone Survivor” makes a brave attempt.

Chronicling a mission to take out al Qaeda leaders, it shows how truly dangerous life can be for those on the front lines. In order to find Ahmad Shahd, four SEALs are sent to the mountains in Afghanistan to bring back intelligence.

The mountains, however, provide transmission problems, forcing the four to climb to higher ground. Sure enough, natives spot them, forcing the soldiers to make a decision – kill them and face jail time or let them live and possibly face exposure. The men opt to let them go and, sure enough, trouble arrives.

During much of Peter Berg’s gritty, frequently graphic drama, the four (Mark Wahlberg, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster and Taylor Kitsch) are running from the enemy. Battered, bruised and nearly beaten, they fight on, trying to get to a place where American forces can extract them.

Because Berg gives us a brief glimpse of them outside the belly of the beast, we gain a sense of who they are and what they’ve left behind. They argue, comfort and confide in each other but it’s those moments in harm’s way that reveal their strength.

Hirsch gets captured and becomes a target for both sides. The SEALs want to rescue him; the Taliban want to kill them in the quest.

Berg uses plenty of “Friday Night Lights” music to accompany the action and isn’t afraid to slow things down for a telling move. When the men tumble down the mountain, you can feel their pain. When they get shot, the bullets resonate.

“Lone Survivor” isn’t easy to watch. Like caged animals, they’re helpless, unable to complete the mission in a way that would be satisfying to all.

Because it’s clear from the title this is not “we all come home safely,” we suspect most will die. What we don’t realize is the help that the survivor gets from villagers. Operating under an ethical code called “Pashtunwali,” they take him in, protect him and help him get home.

This friendship – rarely detailed in Middle Eastern war films – could prompt another film, showing the relationship that has since developed. It’s a sliver of hope in what appears to be a hopeless world.

Wahlberg continues to impress with another strong performance; Hirsch and Kitsch are touching. And Foster gets one of the film’s best lines: “If you can die for your country, I can live for mine.”

While some of the action seems heightened and condensed for the big screen, there’s an immediacy that helps explain why the hunt for Osama and others has been so difficult.

“Lone Survivor” isn’t for the weak of heart but it’s a rallying cry for the strong of spirit.

When Berg flashes photos of the real soldiers, its true impact is felt.

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