Peter Berg’s Lone Survivor opens with documentary footage of a boot camp for the United States Navy SEALs, where hardbodied trainees strain their way through feats of endurance and strength. The point of this sequence, it seems, is to show how exceptional the real-life SEALs are before introducing SEALs as characters. With soldiers’ conviction and might thus demonstrated, the film can then whisk a few of them off on a mission that, as the title suggests, does not end particularly well.
But this montage serves another, more insidious function. Assembled like a high-gloss music video and slathered in Explosions in the Sky’s soaring post-rock, it plays out like an advertisement for the Marine Corps—an affectionate endorsement from Hollywood of the SEALs’ peerless brawn.
Adapted from the memoirs of former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell (played in the film by Mark Wahlberg, who also co-produced), Lone Survivor is the sort of film you expect to seem at least a little propagandistic. It’s rooted in a tradition of patriotism as old as the motion picture itself, stretching from the John Wayne vehicle The Green Berets to the recent Act of Valor. Many of its more aggressively nationalistic elements are just a matter of following genre protocol.
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