By Jess Fenton
17th February 2014

It starts with real-life footage of Navy SEALs in training. They face freezing conditions, and physical and emotionally demanding feats - basically, the stuff of nightmares that would bring any normal mortal to their knees. This kind of access and insight lets you know straight away that what you are about to see is real, raw and not for the faint of heart.

An elite group of SEALs are assigned in Afghanistan, in what we now know was an ill-fated mission to neutralise a high-level Taliban operative. The four-man reconnaissance team led by Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitch) and followed by Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) and Matt “Axe” Axelson (Ben Foster) is soon interrupted by three goat herders walking the mountainside. This seemingly innocuous group turn out to be the team's undoing, as they heatedly discuss a course of action and its consequences should these men walk free and most likely let the appropriate people know of their whereabouts. Believing they’re doing the right thing and putting too much faith in their equipment and skills, their decision leads to an all-out gunfight which leaves them outnumbered in horrible terrain - an ugly and painful fight to the death that leaves only one survivor.

The film, though full of talent, doesn’t quite live up to the tale - perhaps the result of the material simply being too difficult to comprehend (which it most certainly is). The actors struggle to put themselves in the moment. Director Peter Berg (‘Friday Night Lights’, ‘Hancock’) is still too Hollywood and the picture comes off as too pretty. There’s definite potential here, and some of the action shots - particularly during the gun battle - are spectacular, but what ‘Lone Survivor’ lacks insgrit. Hard-core grit is sorely needed, despite the intensity of the relentless assault which puts you right in the thick of it.

The key here is story, and most importantly of all, the conclusion. By far, ‘Lone Survivor’s’ strongest elements are its opening and closing title sequences, which put everything in between in perspective and makes it all worthwhile. This film has the heart and the soul, but not the cinematic presence. Nonetheless, it’s still effective and a story that needs to be seen to be believed.

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