When you know just what's going to happen in a movie before it even starts, it's going to need some real magic to get any grip on you. If you're Peter Berg, man of little magic, you need lunatic levels of self confidence to go for it anyway. Luckily, Hollywood has never been short of lunatic levels of self confidence.
Lone Survivor is a filmed dramatisation of all the stuff which went horribly wrong in Operation Red Wings (that name is apparently what happens when you decide to call a series of operations after hockey teams and have to skip all the names so bad ass the US Armed Forces are already using them to describe special ops units). I say it's a filmed dramatisation because they've sped up the action, from five days down to three, and added a gun battle at the end when the reality was that once a good-hearted Afghan village sheltering Marcus Luttrell told the Taliban to get bent, the Taliban paid heed to the fact that their opponents were both numerous and fierce - and dug in - and went home to make video tapes of how at least they'd killed the other three Navy Seals and shot down a helicopter full of 16 other US special ops people who'd come to try to rescue them. No climactic gun battle, just the cavalry eventually showing up after a couple of weeks of searching.
It's a hard movie to watch; the middle third is a gruelling montage of the soldiers getting slowly shot to bits and falling endlessly down the mountainside slamming into rocks and tree-trunks in what look like horrible crippling impacts. It's a bit grisly to contemplate the thinking behind it; they worked from autopsies and Luttrell's own account to duplicate the injuries as faithfully as possible, and they injured a lot of stuntmen getting the falls to look right. We're ground right into their suffering, and a lot of the time, this doesn't feel like a movie which is glamourising war.
Yet, in a way it is. We live through the slow deaths of the US soldiers, but the Taliban hunting them go down wordlessly, instantly, inconsequentially; there's a montage at the end of all the 20 US soldiers who died, but no mention at all of the men who died trying to kill them. Just like Black Hawk Down, a film it shares a lot of DNA with (based on a book, bootcamps for the actors, big help-out from the US armed forces in production, uncritical view of the US military), it's essentially a modern dress Little Big Horn, as gallant US soldiers go down under a hail of fire from faceless and expendable hordes.
Which is not to say it's entirely wrongheaded. The Taliban are not the good guys. The poor doomed guys in Operation Red Wings would probably have made it - and we'd never have heard anything about them - if they'd been less principled and just murdered the herders who found them and ratted them out to the Taliban as soon as they could. They died because they tried to be better than the people they were hunting. If a movie's going to promote the things the US military gets up to, that's the kind of thing I'd like to see held up as the example. But somehow, it still felt like a zombie movie; the few brave heroes against the faceless malevolent subhuman horde.
I blame Berg, who meant well, but - as he demonstrated in The Kingdom - doesn't have what it takes to give a nuanced picture of the real world, in which everyone - however wrong they might be about themselves - still thinks they're doing their best.