Marky Mark produces and stars in this based on a true story tale of a four man group of Navy SEALS on a mission – Operation Red Wings – gone pear shaped and their attempts to stay alive against overwhelming odds. Director Peter Berg seems to be atoning for the dreadful Battleship with a movie that’s as intense a film as you’ll see this year.
Discovered by some (possibly) non-combatant goat herders during a routine mission to scout and identify a high priority Taliban target, frogmen Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster have to make a choice between ‘terminating the compromise’ or letting the herders – one elderly man and two minors – go, knowing full well doing so could lead to a mission failure and likely bring dozens of armed militants their way if even one of them raises the alarm. They decide upon the latter and set about retreating and covering their escape back to base. However, before too long they are set upon by the Taliban and the fight for the lives begins.
And once it does, you’d be hard pushed to find a movie that puts you in the thick of the action like this one does. You’d have to go back as far as 2001 and Black Hawk Down for a film that provides the same on-the-ground, you-are-there feel. It’s visceral, it’s intense, it’s heartpounding, and it takes up most of the film. Shot cleanly and crisply with near military precision, you’re never unsure of where everyone is or what is happening and as a result it’s far more engaging than your typical camera-all-over-the-place way these types of gun battles are filmed. Everything feels realistic; there’s no charging into battle, guns blazing, dodging bullets simply because you’re the hero. Our characters are well trained soldiers (as shown in the real life training footage that opens the movie) and every move seems tactical, especially because the SEALS are on the back foot for most of the film which just increases the tension further. You’ll feel every knock, bump, scrape, break and snap as well. It’s brutal stuff.
The cast are all giving it their all as well, with every ounce of blood, sweat, more blood, tears, snot, spit and more blood up on screen for all to see. And while the characters aren’t fleshed out as much as you’d like and the moments that do give a little background are slightly hackneyed (one character marks his own card right at the beginning by doing something that in a work of fiction would be groan worthy; although given the movie’s title you can probably guess how it turns out before sitting down in the cinema), you can’t deny that when things go wrong the sense of brotherhood between the men is almost tangible. And although the film constantly teeters on the brink of turning into Team America levels of self parody, it avoids that pitfall admirably – aside from a few unnecessary hero shots especially one death that feels like Adagio for Strings is going to start playing and a certain muddiness when it comes to the politics of the situation – and besides, it would be difficult to present this story any other way.
Yet near the end the film takes an elongated breather that feels at odds with the rest of the film (yet oddly is crying out for more of that story to be told) and engineers a contrived skirmish that exists for no other reason than to provide a little extra jolt of action before the close. The film then ends with real life footage and photographs of the unbelievably courageous men and women involved with a cover of David Bowie’s Heroes playing over the top. Subtle, it is not. Affecting? Most definitely.
A stunningly visceral and impressively impactful movie with a great cast and an overwhelming reminder, if one is needed, that ‘war is hell.’
Review by Jonathan Cardwell.
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