In one sense, "Lone Survivor" is a myopic enterprise. Writer-director Peter Berg demonstrates an abiding lack of interest in the larger geopolitical and human circumstances surrounding Operation Red Wings, the failed 2005 SEAL Team 10 mission in Afghanistan that the movie re-creates.
But what the picture lacks in perspective it makes up for in sheer visceral force: This is a steadfastly brutal portrait of warfare that emphasizes every bone crunch and lingers on bullets as they whiz into bodies, never pulling back from showing us the awful realities of battle.
The film works in that basic "war is hell" fashion, with most of its running time devoted to a painstaking depiction of four SEALs trapped by an enormous Taliban force in rocky, forested terrain.
Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster play the SEALs, who are basically defined by single character traits. They're sent to the outskirts of a remote village in a bid to find a Taliban leader. All goes well until their cover is blown by a goat farmer and a couple of kids.
The ensuing battle is an exemplary cinematic achievement, filled with complicated shots, sharp compositions and eruptions of gore that offer a documentary-like portrait of life under siege. Berg, adapting the book of the same title by Marcus Lutrell (who is played by Wahlberg), has clearly done painstaking research into every inch of this firefight. The verisimilitude is strong.
The movie has the veneer of militaristic propaganda, but it actually imparts a rather powerful anti-war message thanks to both the bureaucratic ineptitude that imperils the mission and the sheer awfulness of the combat on display, which feels more like a terrifying march toward mortality than the stuff of adventure.
Directed by Peter Berg
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster
Opens Dec. 25