SPOILER! What’s it about? Uh . . . Well don’t need to see it, the title says it all. Anyway, during a covert mission to take out a notorious Taliban commander, four US Navy SEALs (Mark “Marky Mark” Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster) are stumbled upon by Afghan goatherds. Their position compromised, the squad retreat deep into the mountains, outnumbered and outgunned by a pursuing Taliban force. The unfolding events were based on a true story about Operation Red Wings.
Best line of the film: “That’s not a knife, that’s a fucking duck!”. You read that right. There is a method behind my madness. I will get back to this very line.
Marky Mark bosses it with the Fuzzy Bunch in a somewhat mixed bag of a military drama ‘Merica Style. The tone of the film, like the ambush, is all over the place but what can be commended is what these men went through. I was hesitant when I saw Peter Berg’s name appear across the screen. At his best, we’ve had the entertaining TV series, Friday Night Lights. At his worst, Battleship. However, the film opens with an intense SEAL training montage of archive footage, in which we see SEALS thrown into all sorts of situations and conditions, instantly gaining my attention. The inevitable BASED ON A TRUE STORY credits came on before rather than after the film. We are thrown straight into the action, with a bloodied Wahlberg being operated on. His voiceover begins and we are cast back to the build up before the cursed operation. Unfortunately with such a shoddy title, you have a gist of what’s going to happen, it’s just how. This should have just been called Operation Red Wings, then there would have been more interest in the other characters, instead of being left to sit there and guess; He must die now? No, this bit, defo.
It takes a good half hour for the operation, and the film, to really get going. The typical macho muscle camaraderie is set up with a running contest between Hirsch and Kitsch. We even get a wonderful powerpoint presentation explaining the . . . plot. This must all before the boom, bang, pow. Lisa Simpson explains it better . . .
The usual military shenanigans are established, which would arguably provide a dimension to the characters but if anything, makes them quite stocky and cliched. Especially when they are “hazing the new guy”. The focus seems to move from Wahlberg to Berg regular, Taylor Kitsch as leading officer Michael Murphy. Berg has a great cast lineup and the leading SEALS played their parts very well. However, although great to see Eric Bana. His role was very passive and any actor could have played him. Easy work for the big man but a wasted actor. All the SEALS anthems and slow motion helicopter shots are eventually pushed away for the actual operation. Once the SEALS reach the final checkpoint surrounding the Taliban compound, the pace finally livens up, tensions rise and Berg finally delivers a suspenseful action set-piece. The signs of disaster start early as Hirsch’s character struggles to maintain signal as they get closer to their target.
Where Berg excels in suspense and action, he struggles in keeping the tone of the film. The aforementioned line is a perfect example. Berg implores humour at all the wrong places in an attempt to lighten the severity of the situation but it just comes off hammy and at points, you end up laughing for all the wrong reasons. I mean what’s the significance of Bana being woken up in an emergency and storming off in flip flops? The accidental ambush by Taliban farmers was nail bitingly tense. Once the SEALs apprehend them to maintain their cover, Berg questions the moral ethics behind some dangerous situations that SEALs, soldiers and marines have to deal with. The brewing argument between Foster and Wahlberg helps voice the complexities and difficulties to kill or release civilian farmers, while adhering to the rules of engagement. It’s great to see Foster given a bigger role. I’ve been impressed with his acting ever since the small TV movie, Bang Bang You’re Dead.
The film does get better with the action coming thick and fast, racy and intense. The POV sniper shots and slow motion are executed well. The Taliban, for most of the film, are portrayed as ruthless menaces who are relentless in their attacks, never giving the SEALS a moment to recover. However, although exhilarating, it soon gets overlong and exhausting, and unintentionally comical in one of the craziest rolls that even a cheese roller wouldn’t dare attempt. And it doesn’t happen once, oh no, thrice! This is where I have to question the events or are Hollywood just giving us more bang for our buck? Of course adrenaline rushes and in extreme situations, the impossible can happen but was this true? I lost counts how many times the SEALS were shot, crushed, battered. And the death toll on the Taliban was bordering Rambo III territory. Oh and the roll, my goodness, if you’ve seen Kung Pow: Enter the First, you know that scene with the baby. In fact, it was more like that infamous cliff falling scene in the Simpsons. It bordered on parody.
Seriously, there were actually a few titters in the audience. It soon got very predictable and very corny until an unexpected explosive moment that brought a passive Wahlberg to the forefront. The first 90 minutes seemed to be the story of the unit. The final 30 minutes was Wahlberg’s story, in which we follow him evading capture and hiding with some farmers who are just as anti-Taliban as the SEALS. While this is happening, Berg attempts to make a statement about the bureaucracy of the US military and the poor organisation in which the unit were left stranded for so long, with piss poor technical equipment. It somehow came off a bit lazy, contrived and a mere plot device. The proof was already in the pudding with the botched operation. In all fairness, Shah and Tarik, the lead terrorists, were incredibly passive and very weak. They really were one dimensional, if not for a discouraging decapitation scene. The real depth was provided by Ali Suliman as Gulab, the sympathetic farmer who does everything to save Marcus (Wahlberg) at the risk of his and his son’s (Nicholas Patel) lives.
As the film drew to an explosive finale, the final minutes brought a sobering realisation, especially in Wahlberg’s heartfelt gratitude to Gulab and by a fitting tribute to the men that lost their lives in that unfortunate operation. Unfortunately, Berg had too many faces flying about, that I had to remember who was who, when they showed the real people they had portrayed. It was great to see that Marcus and Gulab did reunite further down the line. All in all, a mixed bag. Great acting and action set pieces on a true event, that is unfortunately hit with a grenade of unintentional jokes and mixed messages. Not bad, but not great and the length did drag. Could have been 90 minutes and been slightly better for it. 3/5
Currently ranks #55 out of 132!