In my last review, of the movie Her, I talked about poorly titled movies this year. This movie falls into that category of films this year with titles that are spoilers: A Man Escaped and 12 Years a Slave are the others. Of course, we knew how Captain Phillips ended, but at least they had the sense to not title it “SEALs Shoot Hijackers.”
Like that film, this movie deals with the always impressive Navy SEALs. It takes an event from 2005 that cost us 19 soldiers, and was written about in Marcus Luttrell’s best-selling memoir.
The movie was written and directed by Peter Berg. As an actor, I enjoyed his work (Cop Land, The Great White Hype, and The Last Seduction). As a director, not so much (Hancock, and on my worst list last year – Battleship).
The movie starts by powerfully showing us real training footage of the brave men that become SEALs. It was a pleasant surprise to see interactions with the guys on base that weren’t goofy scenes like we had in The Hurt Locker – where they have fun by punching each other out or nonsense like that. We have foot races and little jabs over lunch. It would’ve been nice to learn a bit more about them as characters, but there was a subtlety that was working.
During the Operation Red Wings, a four-man squad was dropped into a remote area of Afghanistan. They hid in surrounding brush, staking out a high-ranking member of the Taliban. This gives us some comedic moments, as one soldier is asking about whether or not a certain woman he’s interested in will be at an upcoming wedding. When Luttrell informs him, “She’s a bridesmaid,” his response is “So…will she be there?”
That had me thinking of the much funnier scene in Bull Durham, when the catcher runs to the mound to talk about wedding gifts with the pitcher. Another scene in this movie made me think of the much better war movie Platoon. Yet it’s not fair mentioning this movie in the same breath as those classics. This is more along the lines of a better acted Act of Valor (where we learned that SEALs are much better at fighting than acting).
The wedding discussion is interrupted by some goat herders that happen to stumble upon their hide-out. That’s where we get that intense moment of soldiers arguing with each other about what to do. I find that a rather intense and interesting part of war films. I thought about Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington in each others faces in Crimson Tide, with both of them knowing that a wrong decision could mean starting a nuclear war. With this decision, letting the herders (which consisted of old men and children) go could mean their positions are compromised. Again…guessing from the title of the movie, you can see how that is going to turn out.
Wahlberg plays Marcus Luttrell, and the rest of the cast is played by Emile Hirsch as Danny Dietz, Taylor Kitsch is Lieutenant Michael Murphy, Danny Dietz is played by Emile Hirsch, and the always impressive Ben Foster plays Matthew Axelson.
Since the director was the son of a Marine, and he had the real Luttrell working on the film, the military is shown almost as super heroes. And after watching them tumble a few times down rocky terrain with a few bullet holes in them, you might easily agree.
Cinematographer Tobias Schliessler shot the gun fights well, in horrific fashion. I thought about Black Hawk Down, and it was thinking about that movie that made me appreciate this movie a bit more. I’ve gotten burned out on war films, but knowing this was a real story…even if it was a bit too one-note and overblown, it ultimately worked.
I saw this at a screening with Navy SEALs. During the closing credits, as Peter Gabriel sang a version of the song “Heroes,” they applauded and cheered as still photos and videos of the real men appeared on screen. It made me bawl my eyes out.
Yes, these are heroes…and for more than just one day.
This gets 3 stars out of 5.