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Lone Survivor interview

Based on the true story of four Navy SEALS ambushed in Afghanistan who through an act of humanity paid the ultimate price. Mark Wahlberg, Emile Hirsch, the director and stars reflect on the experience of portraying real soldiers in true to life circumstances.

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Reviewer rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Reader rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars (16 votes)

Vietnam brought a boom in the analytical war movie and it's still with us, fuelled by the seemingly insoluble conflicts raging in Africa and the Middle East. They bristle with moral quandaries and the likes of Kathryn Bigelow and Ridley Scott have been eagerly exploring them.

Peter Berg's Lone Survivor, from the book, Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell with Patrick Robinson, has much in common with Scott's Black Hawk Down and its story of a failed US Army Rangers mission in Mogadishu in 1993. This one is based on the near-fatal experiences of Luttrell, a Navy SEAL who was dropped into the mountains of the Hindu Kush with three other SEALs on a disastrous reconnaissance expedition in 2005.

"Lone Survivor"

Under fire: Lone Survivor, based on a book about the near-fatal experiences of a Navy Seal, has much in common with Black Hawk Down.

The four are to confirm the whereabouts of a Taliban warlord in preparation for a SEAL raid on his base but soon after they land, they are confronted with a dilemma that can only be resolved at a price. And the nature of that price is up to them.

But before we reach that point, we're treated to a rundown on what it is to be a SEAL. Luttrell's book begins with an extended description of the force's training and bonding rituals. The film strips it down to a harrowing introductory montage which achieves the same job with an eloquent sense of economy. They're only partway through a series of trials which look capable of reducing Hercules to a quivering heap when you feel like shouting: Go home now! Not that any of them would listen. The military's gung ho spirit prevails and will go on prevailing in spite of all the reasons many of these men are about to be given for cursing the day they ever signed up.

Their next stop is the SEALs' base in Afghanistan. Here, Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), a medic, and his comrades come under the command of Eric Bana's Erik Christensen, who is clearly a lot smarter and more considerate than the general to whom he reports. Lieutenant Mike Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), who will lead the four-man mission into the mountains, is another good soldier but in war, decency and intelligence are no guarantee of a happy ending - as you're reminded when Murphy, Luttrell and their comrades, Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch), and Matthew "Axe" Axelson (Ben Foster), are dropped into a landscape that is just as hostile as the Taliban fighters they are about to meet.

Berg chose New Mexico's Sangre de Cristo Mountains to stand in for the Hindu Kush and the terrain's rocky crags and sparse woodlands are so steep and sharp that there are only two ways to go - up or down.

For a while, things proceed according to plan. Peering at the Taliban encampment below, the group identify their target and they are deciding on places to hide while they wait for reinforcements. Then three goat herders accidentally come upon them and suddenly the picture changes. Are they going to break the military's rules of engagement and kill three civilians or are they going to set the goat herders free in the sure knowledge that they will head straight for the Taliban? Dietz, their communications man, tries to radio their HQ for orders only to discover that he can't get through. They're trapped.

The rest is an extended war of attrition in which you find out more than you could ever wish to know about the damage a highly trained human body at peak fitness can withstand before giving up. It's warfare at its most intense - a concentrated demonstration of courage, endurance and camaraderie which is wholly convincing. Along with the multiple bullet wounds, all four sustain bone-breaking tumbles in their efforts to get out of the line of the fire. And somehow, in the midst of the carnage, Berg's script manages to make characters of them, rather than mere action figures - although, in this case, it's action that defines character.

The script departs significantly from fact during the denouement - a fictional shootout between the Taliban and a group of Afghan villagers who have given Luttrell shelter. Even so, the basic fact is true. Luttrell's saviour turned out to be a Pashtun villager with his own highly civilised brand of gung ho spirit. In his view, fear of the Taliban can never justify a violation of the Pashtun rules of hospitality. Such are the complexities of modern warfare - and the modern war movie.

Twitter: @SandraHFilm