A huge opportunity missed here as what could have been a tight, thrilling and quite moving war piece based on a true incident taking place in Afghanistan in 2005, descends into complete farce and jingoism with the main American soldiers each being shot about five hundred times, exclaiming ‘damn it’ with each hit as if they’d merely been stung by some nettles as blood spurts everywhere all leading up to dramatic Boromir style death scenes in slow motion with the sun setting on the picturesque landscape surrounding them. The title itself completely blows much of the story as for anyone who wasn’t aware of the details (the vast majority of viewers one imagines) we know only one of the four man team survives, and the very beginning compacts this gross error by showing it is very clearly going to be Mark Wahlberg’s character Marcus Luttrell, and indeed the film is based on Luttrell’s novel recounting events as they happened on the ground (reputedly his original report put enemy troop numbers at circa 20 -30, then in his book they became more like 200, whilst an alternative novel published about the operation puts them at more like 9 or 10).
The other three combatants are played by Emile Hirsch, Taylor Kitsch and Ben Foster, and, frankly, if I died fighting for my country I’d be pretty pissed off with some of these casting choices, and the film opens, after some decent real army footage, with what seems to be some sort of homosexual soft porno with the focus on the bodies of the men instead of the camaraderie or characters. Without knowing the exact details of the events that actually occurred, their assignment according to the film was to covertly approach an Afghan village and take out a Taliban leader, or ‘the bad guys’ as they put it, thought to be there, but it many ways it seems doomed from the beginning. They quickly find the mountains are making radio communication impossible – how is it they didn’t factor that in? It surely cannot have come as a surprise. Then they encounter their first major obstacle and make a complete dog’s breakfast of it, before failing to properly conceal themselves in what seems pretty good terrain to disappear in, especially if there are only four of you. Not only this, but instead of both hiding themselves and also preparing cover where they would have the advantage, they elect to run at the superior numbers taking very little precaution with cover (but when you can take multiple bullets without even noticing I guess that’s not so much of an issue), and then, when they should once again be trying to disappear, they loudly call out to each other creating a very, very easy duck hunt for the people trying to kill them.
It ends with what is actually a very moving tribute to the real men that lost their lives there, but this is cheating – an emotional punch at the end that people are naturally going to feel and empathise with and yet it cannot make up for the majority of the film being terrible. I say the majority – the last quarter of the story has more of a heart to it, which took me by surprise, and some of the scenes at least successfully begin to set up tension, with at least one of them slightly uncomfortable viewing, as was intended by the clever way it was shot. However, when you are watching the main characters effectively play Cowboys and Indians and pretending to be riddled with lead and hit every bone of their bodies off rocks, still calmly delivering cheesy lines to one another, then the thing is sunk without any real hope of redemption. This is entirely the fault of director Peter Berg as he not only helmed the project but also wrote the screenplay, in fact, and I may be misremembering this, but I think he tells us he is the director twice during the opening credits. His last film was ‘Battleship’ (12) and this is in the same league as that, notwithstanding the real world relevance.