"There's a storm inside of us," Marcus Luttrell, played by Mark Wahlberg, tells us in "Lone Survivor," an account of the 2005 Navy SEAL mission known as Operation Red Wings. "A burning river, a drive," he continues, and he doesn't stop there. "An unrelenting drive to push yourself farther than anyone could think possible."
This opening voice-over is a clue that "Lone Survivor," written and directed by Peter Berg from Luttrell's memoir, is more interested in the glamour of the Navy SEALs than in the men themselves. At its best, the movie captures the terrible choices they made and the physical pain they endured to complete a task that they were given. But we never quite get to know them. "Lone Survivor" offers glorification with little characterization.
The film begins by introducing us to Luttrell and the others who would become the Red Wings group, including Ben Foster as the hard-nosed Matt "Axe" Axelson, Emile Hirsch as the excitable Danny Dietz and Taylor Kitsch as Patchogue-raised Michael Murphy, already famous for his physical prowess and mental stamina. We see pictures of girlfriends and hear of plans for weddings, though not much else distinguishes these men, or the performances, from each other.
Once the SEALs begin their mission -- to penetrate Afghanistan's Kunar province and find Ahmad Shah (Yousuf Azami), a Taliban kingpin -- "Lone Survivor" kicks into gear. Berg ("Battleship") knows how to stage an action scene, and the feeling of being pinned down by gunfire can be palpable. A dive off a craggy mountainside shows how desperate and how determined these SEALs were, and how even their superhuman bodies have their limits. Still, "Lone Survivor" often falls prey to video-game syndrome, with our American avatars cherry-picking nameless bad guys from their posts.
"Lone Survivor" rightly wants to honor the SEALs, and you can't blame the movie for putting these supersoldiers on a macho pedestal. They made the ultimate sacrifice, but the movie makes us feel it only symbolically.
PLOT The story of Operation Red Wings, an Afghanistan mission that included Patchogue Navy SEAL Michael Murphy.
RATING R (violence, language)
CAST Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster
BOTTOM LINE The movie seems more concerned with military-style action than with telling us who these fallen heroes really were.