Spoiler alert! The trouble is it’s the title of the movie. I almost feel, for readers who wish to stay virgin, that I should introduce this week’s truth-based Afghanistan war drama – stirring, suspenseful, harrowing as it sometimes is – as L*n* S*****or.
Do we want to know how many survived – or who – of the four US Navy Seals sent to a mountain height to pinpoint a Taliban leader ahead of a capture-or-kill operation? Not that you couldn’t hazard a guess. They are played by Mark Wahlberg, Emile Hirsch, Taylor Kitsch and Ben Foster. Which actor tends not to take big paydays for getting killed off early?
Written and directed by the promiscuously adept Peter Berg (the black comedy Very Bad Things, the Saudi Arabia thriller The Kingdom), the film alternates between the pulverisingly immediate and dismayingly generic. Too often it looks and behaves like a western rather than eastern. The fir-clad massif with sculptured crags practically screams “America”. (Sure enough: actual location, New Mexico.) The foliage-rich boulder slopes down which the hunted grunts slither and bone-crashingly clatter all but say: “Welcome back, Hollywood. Another Sam Peckinpah film?”
The assault-course flight from pursuing Taliban spotters is, even so, a tour de force. Lots of panic and crunching impact. Lots of audience affect – we wince, gasp, go “ouch” and shield our eyes and ears (terrific sound design) – even if it is twinned with a suspicious shortage of physical effect. The soldiers’ limbs must be made of vulcanised rubber since they can still get up and stand. It takes the enemy gun and the enemy knife, quieter and more horrible, to complete the jihadist work.
After that the titular survivor-escapee is bundled to a village where . . . but now we are in spoiler territory. Best just to say, the film and true story’s claim to novelty is the role played by anti-Taliban Afghan villagers. The good news: for once, in a movie and its source actuality, the natives are not all hissable slaughter fodder in robes. The bad news: up in the mountains – bang, bang, balletic instantaneity for them, extended tragic agony for us – they pretty much are.