Film Review: Lone Survivor

Lone Survivor

Peter Berg’s rendition of a true story is brutally violent. Lone Survivor is a surprising survival story, but not a wholly compelling one.

Marcus Luttrell, a Navy Seal, is part of a small team on a mission to capture al Qaeda leader Ahmad Shahd. When they encounter an unexpected obstacle, the team are left to fight for their lives…

There is no escaping the fact that Lone Survivor is an incredibly military heavy film. Peter Berg’s latest is in the same vein as the director’s last film Battleship. Lone Survivor is littered with military language, that presumably intends to convey a sense of realism.

The film concentrates on the mission of four soldiers and the outcome that ensues when they are forced to make a pivotal decision. Viewers are not given much to get their teeth into in terms of the antagonist they are attempting to capture. Instead, Lone Survivor concentrates on what happens to these soldiers, with Marcus Luttrell at the centre of the action. The film would have felt more rounded if they audience were offered some background on his helpers later in the film, rather than a brief mention prior to the end credits.

This is just one aspect that makes Lone Survivor unequivocally pro-American military. Berg’s film has a similar feel to Act of Valour. There is no real space for alternative interpretation; Lone Survivor lacks the nuance to question US army actions, eschewing a balanced approach in favour of a categorical endorsement of the American military. The sequence of images before the end credits feel like a cynical ploy to draw emotion rather than the sincere tribute it should have been. This segment would have been more effective if it was shorter.

The handheld camera works well in the action sequences, but feels unnecessary in early scenes. The sound in Lone Survivor is used to great effect. Mark Wahlberg offers a competent performance as Luttrell, but it is the type of performance he has delivered before. Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster provide good support.

Lone Survivor will appeal to those who enjoy depictions of contemporary military combat. Other viewers may not be quite so enthralled.

Film Review: Contraband

Starring and produced by Mark Wahlberg, Contraband is a bit too contrived to be truly great. Nevertheless, it is an enjoyable crime thriller.

Former smuggler Chris Farraday is now running his own business to support his wife and two children. When his young brother-in-law gets into trouble with a local drug baron, Chris must step in to protect his family. Reluctant to return  to  his life of crime, Chris has little choice in raising funds quickly…

A remake of the 2008 Icelandic film Reykjavik-Rotterdam, and directed by the star of that film, Contraband is entertaining throughout, although not faultless. The film mixes elements of an action thriller with those of a crime caper. Every aspect of the film feeds into the grander scheme. The seemingly impossible is not actually so; clues are dropped along the way so viewers can guess how Chris will get out of his bind. No incident or mention is superfluous. This is a shame, as the film could have thrown viewers off with a few red herrings.

Contraband successfully sustains the viewer’s attention. Pacing in the film is good. Cutting to and fro from land to sea works well to heighten tension. Although some aspects of the film may be a little predictable, there is enough urgency to keep the audience hooked.

The characters that feature in Contraband are quite unoriginal. There are no great surprises, in terms of their motives. As the protagonist, Chris is simply the man trying to protect his family, albeit with some useful skills. This premise is universal, although some character innovation would have been gratefully received.

Performances in the film are fine overall. Mark Wahlberg does his usual tough guy schtick in a role similar to others he has played. Giovanni Ribisi plays Tim Briggs like a caricature, while Ben Foster delivers a good performance as Sebastian. The camera work and editing combine well. The visual style is very much what one would expect from this type of film.

Despite its overly-constructed narrative, Contraband should prove entertaining for most audiences.

Film Review: 360

Fernando Meirelles’ 360 takes place on an international scale. The global interwoven strands are a bit hit and miss, however.

In Vienna, Blanca has her photograph taken for her escort website profile. In London, Rose feels guilty about cheating on her husband. John has taken a flight to the United States looking for his missing daughter. Valentina ponders about the decline of her marriage and her feelings for someone else in Paris…

All these stories and more are entwined in 360, written by Peter Morgan, based on Arthur Schnitzler’s play Der Reigan. The drawback of the film is that some of the stories are more interesting than the others. While one or two of the strands are really quite engrossing, others do not have the same affect. Perhaps the most interesting story is the one concerning the sex offender who is due to be released from prison. However, this strand is not given the time or detail offered to others in 360.

The result of the multiple-strand format is that the film feels incredibly long. After so many characters and locations are introduced, it is difficult to remember those featured earlier in the film. Furthermore, the connecting of stories is not done in a particularly interesting or innovative way for the most part.

Performances from the ensemble cast are good. Particularly noteworthy are Anthony Hopkins as John and Ben Foster as Tyler. 360 is about love and fidelity, but does not say a whole lot, apart from suggested that women sometimes put themselves in dangerous situations. There are some nice scenes and some good dialogue, but the film may have been more satisfying with fewer strands.

360 opens the BFI London Film Festival on 12th October 2011.