Wednesday, January 1, 2014

"Lone Survivor" movie deviates pretty significantly from the book

"The book is better." - Some Asshole

You know that guy? The guy who always tells you to read the book, or the book was better. You know the people last May who were tweeting arrogantly about how they weren't surprised about the Game of Thrones Red Wedding since they had read the books and knew it was coming. As if reading something ahead of time was some sort of mighty feat. You know that guy? I hate that fucking guy. Don't be that guy.

Me? I'm about to be that guy and hopefully in the next few grafs I'll have explained myself well enough for you to understand why.

Lone Survivor is a movie written and directed by Peter Berg starring Mark Wahlberg which tells the tale of the failed Operation Red Wings where a four man SEAL recon team whose op was compromised and which ultimately lead to three of the SEALs being killed in combat and several others being shot out of the sky when the rescure helicopter was hit with an RPG.

The movie portrays the fire fight incredibly well. It's some of the most intense visuals I've seen since Black Hawk Down and since Saving Private Ryan. Black Hawk Down suffered a bit since there's just so many characters that you never really grew attached.  Saving Private Ryan's final battle scene got it right. You were with these guys for 2+ hours and suddenly they start dropping like flies. Who didn't quietly mourn when Jackson (the sniper) was blown out of his snipers nest or when Melish had his own knife slowly rip into his heart. You felt something.

I felt every bullet that Danny Dietz took in the Lone Survivor movie. I felt it when they were falling back. Literally falling back, tumbling down a mountain as they, to put it lightly, were getting their asses handed to them. I felt it when Matt Axelson took a bullet to the eye and when in his final moments kept firing his pistol until there were no more bullets. I felt it when Mike Murphy knew that he made the moral and correct position even though he was almost certainly signing his team's death warrants.

The fire fight starts around 50 minutes into the movie and lasts for almost 40 minutes. Normally non-stop action gets boring (see The Matrix Revolutions) but here it's so well done that the 40 minutes just flies by. At the 90 minute mark of the movie is when the most interesting part of the Lone Survivor story starts. At least for me.

Afghan villagers find Marcus and offer him sanctuary. Pashtunwali is an afghan custom where if they offer you assistance they are honor bound to protect you. No matter what. So they bring Marcus in and protect him.

Here is where the movie just completely fails the story.

The fire fight ends at the 1 hour 30 minute mark.  Marcus gets rescued 1 hour and 49 minutes into the movie and the movie quickly ends.

Why?

Nineteen minutes to cover Marcus crawling several miles on a broken leg until he was found by the Afghan villages? Nineteen minutes to cover them treating Marcus' wounds? Nineteen minute to cover the decrepit can of soda Marcus drank from which gave him severe stomach problems? Nineteen minutes to cover how they gave him heroine to treat his pain? Nineteen minutes to cover how Marcus could see the Taliban out his window, knowing they were out there but the villagers kept to their promise?

It's nineteen minutes because none of that is covered.

In the movie you get Mark Wahlberg asking for a knife, cutting out a bullet in his leg, treating himself. Drinking clear water and eating some food while the villagers send someone off to hand the American's a map from Marcus. Then the Taliban storm the village as the Army roars in to save the day and find Marcus laying in a hut.

It's been years since I read the book but from what I recall Marcus and a Villager leave the hut and are running away when either Rangers or Green Beret's come out of nowhere and rescue him.

Also, the other tragic part of this story were the SEALs and Army Night Stalkers who perished in the rescue helicopter when it was shot down. In the book, Marcus has already been knocked out by an RPG blast and Axelson is presumed dead but in the movie both Axelson and Marcus see the helicopter and see it blown up. That's fine. Creative license here is fine. But this incident happens so fast it's almost glossed over.

After Mike Murphy makes the call on his sat phone back to base, which ultimately lead to his death as he had to find an open area to make the call, the chinooks almost immediately take off. We then learn that a few blackhawks have to be grounded because the Apache helicopters aren't available to pepper the area since it was a hot A.O.  What that means is that you typically have an Apache attack helicopter light up an area prior to inserting troops if you know the area has hostiles. Since the chinooks kept going with the rescue team they didn't have the Apaches available to provide air cover and we know how this ends. And again the movie just gets this wrong. Maybe it's the editing? Maybe it's something else but this was a major part of the story and it just kinda was glossed over.

I know Peter Berg had a very difficult time financing this film. No one wanted to make it and I can understand why. No one wants to go to the movies and see American's get killed. We don't want to see our best soldiers get beaten. No one wants to see the truly dark side of a war, hell no one wants to be reminded that we're still in a war. It was only after the SEALs became something of a hot property because of the Bin Laden raid and Act of Valor that this movie finally got the go ahead.

Did they just not have enough money to tell a longer story? Did the part of Marcus at the village which took place over a few days get cut out of the movie for time? Why did they change the ending to include the cavalry storming the village and finding Marcus instead of the other way? Maybe I'm remembering the story incorrectly since it's been so many years.

Also, war films need to find a better way of humanizing the characters other than showing us that they have wives back home and that they love them. We get it. But there has to be something else because I just roll my eyes when you see it. Not because it isn't true and not because I'm sure it's what real soldiers talk about but because it's such a cliche. In the book I recall reading that one of the four SEALs was doing the New York Times crossword puzzle while on the helicopter. This tells me so much about the character and it was never brought up in the movie. Anyway that's just a minor critique about character development in general.

So, in summary, go see the movie for the firefight alone. It's some of the most heart wrenching and intense forty minutes of film you'l ever see and fight back the tears at the end when you see the real heroes of Operation Red Wings and see the true cost of war.

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