For contemporary war action, here’s a movie for you

By Gary Clift

Mark “Marky Mark” Wahlberg and his brother Donnie have had long and varied careers as American entertainers. The older Donnie is still active as an actor (recently in “Saw” series movies and in television) and as a television producer. But he first became famous as a member of the singing group New Kids on the Block.

Mark also started out as a pre-teen idol, a rapper who appeared in his boxers and was backed by “The Funky Bunch.” His break as an actor came when he was cast in Paul Thomas Anderson’s fascinating film “Boogie Nights.” One feels certain he was picked because his character, a 1970s porn star, was so much like Wahlberg’s public persona—ambitious, dim, and physical.

Since then M. Wahlberg has gone on to star in lots of movies, some pretty good. “The Departed,” I Heart Huckabees,” “The Lovely Bones,” and the re-make of “The Italian Job” are the gems amid the lumps of coal — ”The Perfect Storm,” the re-make of “Planet of the Apes,” “Rock Star,” and “Broken City,” for instance.

This last, a 2013 political thriller of limited interest, also featured Wahlberg as Producer. And the same is true in his newest movie, “Lone Survivor.” If this film reminds us a little of “We Were Soldiers,” perhaps there is a reason. Mel Gibson, the star of that movie, has produced several films, big films, and both starred in and produced “Braveheart,” one of his most fondly remembered features. Wahlberg is taking a path Gibson has walked before.

They have both also gotten themselves in public trouble off-screen. The apparently drunken Gibson made some famous remarks that have since haunted him. Wahlberg’s recording career was apparently torpedoed when he failed to contradict inflammatory remarks made by another rapper when the two of them appeared on a British TV show.

But Mel’s and Mark’s careers have really not been all that much alike. Gibson did a creditable Hamlet. Wahlberg has now made two movies with a rough-talking teddy bear named Ted.

And while “Lone Survivor” is a little like “We Were Soldiers,” it reminds one even more of “Restrepo,” a gritty 2010 National Geographic documentary film about Americans fighting in Afghanistan. Certainly the mission, the social problems, the relations between servicemen, and the terrain are very similar in the two films.

“Lone Survivor” is, we are told, “Based on a true story.” In it Wahlberg’s character, Lutrell, leads three other tough Navy Seals in a mission to kill or capture an evil Taliban leader up in the hills. Emil Hirsch, another actor who has had an interesting career, plays one of the Seals.

Complications—the unexpected number of Taliban troops, difficulty with radios and helicopter scheduling (not very clearly explained), and the early discovery of Lutrell’s group by Afghan shepherds—lead to the squad’s encirclement and to a long moving shoot out, much of it filmed as if writer and director Peter Berg had only recently been impressed by Arthur Penn’s 1967 movie “Bonnie and Clyde.”

Sometimes the film seems to have been put together with insufficient care. For example, we are twice shown what I believe was the same shot of an afghan being thrown over a car and into a fence when he is hit by bullets—twice within three minutes in the film’s last big shoot-out sequence. But there is some quality here, too. Eric Bana has been cast as the mission’s supervisor, and he just about can’t do anything wrong on screen.

Then there’s Wahlberg. As producer, he has given himself performing difficulties by casting himself as a young, hyper-trained Texan. Nevertheless he manages to seem genuine in the part most of the time, perhaps especially in the scenes when he is in the Afghan village, scenes that are clearly the highlight of the film.

Not that “Lone Survivor” will be remembered as one of the great events of Wahlberg the younger’s long tenure as a celebrity. But if you’re wanting wild contemporary war action, here’s a movie for you. And if you’re a Wahlberg brothers fan, here’s a must-see.

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