Writer-director Peter Berg (The Rundown and The Kingdom) knows a thing or two about framing high-testosterone action sequences. The camera is always right in the middle of the live-action set pieces and he’s astute when it comes to presentation. All of which is why Lone Survivor feels like a misstep, a minor loss of footing, to be fair, but just enough of a slip to damage the intuitive sense of more discerning audiences armed with knowledge of the true story the film is based on. “Operation Red Wings” dropped four SEAL Team 10 members into enemy territory to capture or kill a noted Taliban leader.
Compromised when the embedded team encountered civilian shepherds — whom they released rather than killing — the four-man unit ended up under attack, but they fought, literally to the last man: Marcus Luttrell lived to tell the tale of what happened to his brothers. Played with reverential understatement by Mark Wahlberg, Luttrell comes across as more of a supporting player in the story. Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) and Matt Axelson (Ben Foster) pop off the screen with deftly sketched backstories and scenes that capture the brotherhood of warriors in hot zones. While sitting in the theater, Lone Survivor packs the same thrill and wallop as Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down, but once you step away, it is difficult to not wonder why the film over-sells the odds against the team, generating Taliban fighters, seemingly by the hundreds, when the actual number might have been no more than 20. Berg didn’t trust that we would appreciate the desperation of the very real situation, a tactical miscue that belongs to the multiplex mentality, not the drama of war. Opens wide Jan. 10. (R) Grade: B