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Originally published Thursday, January 9, 2014 at 12:07 AM

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‘Lone Survivor’: a true-life tale of a doomed SEALs mission

A three-star movie review of “Lone Survivor,” filmmaker Peter Berg’s account of a doomed mission carried out in Afghanistan by four Navy SEALs (played by Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster).

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie Review 3 stars

‘Lone Survivor,’ with Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster. Directed by Peter Berg, from a screenplay by Berg. 121 minutes. Rated R for strong bloody war violence and pervasive language. Several theaters.

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The outcome of “Lone Survivor” is to be found right there in the title. Of four Navy SEALs sent on a reconnaissance mission in the rugged mountains of Afghanistan to hunt down a ruthless Taliban commander, only one survives. In the firefight with the Taliban that claims the men’s lives, many of their would-be rescuers die as well.

The incident took place in the summer of 2005. Writer-director Peter Berg based his movie on the best-selling 2007 account of it written by the man who survived, Marcus Luttrell. Luttrell worked closely with the filmmakers to ensure the picture was as accurate as possible in depicting the events he experienced.

The core of the picture is an extended battle sequence. Outgunned and outnumbered, the four SEALs — Luttrell (played by Mark Wahlberg), Matthew Gene “Axe” Axelson (Ben Foster), Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch) and Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) — fight fiercely and suffer grievously. Not since 2001’s “Black Hawk Down” has the bloody chaos of war been so graphically portrayed in a Hollywood feature.

Berg’s script and the performances of the four main actors put the emphasis on the men’s fighting skills, products of their superb training (an opening montage shows how grueling that training is). But as individuals, they are not well-differentiated. Their personalities seem to blend together.

Another montage, this one at the end, of home movies and wedding photos and other personal snapshots of the real-life SEALs, offers a hint of what these men, these individuals, were like away from the front lines.

Like “Black Hawk Down,” too, “Lone Survivor” is a reminder of how the best-laid war plans can be quickly undone by miscalculation and sheer misfortune. Faulty communication gear leaves the SEALs vulnerable when they’re unable to stay in contact with their command base. And when three goat herders stumble upon them, their mission is fatally compromised.

The encounter with the unarmed Afghan goat herders confronts the men with a moral dilemma. The SEALs capture the three and then must decide whether to kill them or free them, knowing that the latter course of action means the Afghans will quickly alert the Taliban to the Americans’ presence in the area. The SEALs’ debate and their decision regarding the Afghans’ fate is the key to the underlying nobility of their sacrifice.

Soren Andersen:

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