Current American sentiment, indeed that of most of the world, is firmly against war and foreign intervention. After years of battle in the Middle East, the War on Terror started by George W Bush is winding down with American troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Although the public may not want war, we still clamour for heroes – a sentiment perhaps driven by nationalistic pride or a sense of applauding those braver than us.

While Australia commemorates our military failures such as Gallipoli, America has an uneasy relationship with events portraying their military as anything other than exceptional and beyond reproach.

This sense of American exceptionalism makes Vietnam, the subject of many great films, a source of controversy even today. Ironically, it appears to be the only issue which unites both sides of politics in Washington.

Consequently, mainstream Hollywood treats the American military as a swashbuckling, all-conquering force beyond reproach (see: most major blockbusters where the military beats insurmountable odds and defeats the enemy). These movies serve a purpose – they fill seats, sell popcorn and remind us that wherever there is a problem, the American military will solve it.

Even Blackhawk Down, which dealt with one of the US Marine’s biggest failures, received the blockbuster treatment with requisite moments of triumph, redemption and made-for-screen courage.

Perhaps Hollywood is only guilty of reinforcing a notion prevalent in society.

During conflicts or natural disasters, the world looks to the American military (often chastised as an imperialist force during times of peace) as the problem solver and supreme arbiter.

This makes Lone Survivor an exceptional movie for the events portrayed in the movie, the determination to bring it to screen and its very premise.

As alluded to by the title, it is the story of Marcus Luttrell (played by Mark Wahlberg), the only survivor of a botched assassination mission by American Navy SEALS in Afghanistan.

By choosing to uphold their rules of engagement preventing the harming of non-combatants, the four-man reconnaissance team battles against a relentless force of Taliban fighters in the Afghan mountains.

Their determination to uphold the rule of law, despite knowing it may very well mean their death, is truly remarkable and a counter-balance to the repugnant acts highlighted during the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

Directed by Pete Berg (who Universal Pictures forced to direct the ridiculous Battleship movie before this) and starring a mixture of Hollywood performers and military personnel, Lone Survivor is a nuanced exposition of conflict. War is not simply a contest of ‘goodies versus baddies’.

‘Good’ is highly subjective given your relative position, as illustrated by the closing act of the movie where Luttrell is saved by an Afghan village.

While some in the village are against the presence of American forces in their country, they defend Luttrell from the Taliban because of the Pastunwali code.

This code has many tenets, such as Nanawatai (providing those in need with asylum) and Nang (protecting the weak), that govern how people act.

Followers are compelled to act in certain ways, even making the ultimate sacrifice for a stranger whom they are conditioned to hate.
Lone Survivor is successful because Berg and the many producers involved in the project retain authenticity in their storytelling.

It uses the failure of the mission as an examination of self-sacrifice.

By focusing on the humanness of these elite soldiers and not being weighed down by making political statements, the movie allows the audience time to reflect on these issues and reach their own conclusions.

Stripping away Hollywood clichés and blockbuster histrionics helps as well.

The movie does not seek to convince you of the Navy SEALs’ courage or valour. These traits are self-evident in their actions and sacrifices.

This is a complex skill; this reviewer thinks the much-lauded Hurt Locker failed by trying to be overly political in its proposition.
Similarly, Zero Dark Thirty failed by trying to cater to too many tastes, resulting in a muddled mess devoid of substance.

Lone Survivor reminds us that better men and women make daily sacrifices for us.

They deserve our support and should be celebrated.

That is true exceptionalism, irrespective of the flag on a soldier’s uniform.

Lone Survivor (MA 15+)
Review by Andrew Juma

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