Tag Archives: Emile Hirsch

Movie Review: Lone Survivor (2013)

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Lone Survivor tells the true story of Operation Red Wings, about how a team of Navy SEALS tasked to capture a Taliban leader end up fighting for their lives behind enemy lines. I was curious about the film because it features a very stellar cast headed by Marky Mark Wahlberg, who also produced the film, along with Taylor Kitsch (Battleship, John Carter), Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild), Ben Foster and Eric Bana. On the other hand, it’s directed by Peter Berg, who has had a very mixed record with previous efforts such as The Kingdom, Hancock and Battleship.

War movies based on true stories are always at risk of becoming glamorized or glorified into recruitment propaganda films, like 2012’s Act of Valor, which was a noble effort and solid from an action perspective but too Team America for my liking. Lone Survivor is better than that, though I still had a lot of problems with it.

For starters, the title of the film is incredibly stupid. I know it’s based on the nonfictionbook of the same name, but couldn’t they have come up with something that’s a bit less of a spoiler? Behind Enemy Lines is already taken, but how about something as simple as Operation Red Wings? Even worse than knowing that only one of the four SEALS survive is that you find out which of the four survives in the film’s very first scene (no prizes for guessing who it is). What it means is that you end up watching the movie expecting three of the SEALS to die, and waiting for the surviving SEAL to be rescued, and that really saps a lot of the excitement and suspense out it.

The first half an hour or so of the film sets the stage by introducing us to the SEALS, showing us how heroic and badass they are by always pushing themselves to the limit without fear. It’s supposed to be building the characters so we get to care about them when they are in mortal danger, but instead those scenes feels more like hastily constructed fillers to pad the screen time to two hours. And consequently, apart from Marky Mark, we don’t really know much about the personalities of any of the other characters apart from a bit of perfunctory and cliched fluff (such as emails and calls home, the photos on the walls, etc).

The action sequences which take up the majority of the film are, I admit, very well executed and for the most part come across as authentic and realistic. The four SEALS take on a lot of heavy fire from Taliban soldiers in difficult terrain, and show just how incredibly skilled, tough, courageous and durable they are. The bone crunching sound effects really add to the visceral thrills and tension, though some of the scenes feel a little over the top, and after a while they start to get repetitive. There’s only so many times I want to see people jump from cliffs and roll down hills while smashing into a lot of things. If I want to see that I’ll just watch this scene from Hot Rod.

By the end of the film, however, the realisation of what the SEALS just went through began to dawn on me, and the final scenes ended up being surprisingly emotional. I don’t want to give away probably the only thing the film’s title hasn’t given away already, so I’ll just leave it there.

My conclusion? Great cast and a few effective and exciting action sequences, but nothing that leaves a lasting impression. Better than Act of Valor, but Zero Dark Thirty this is not.

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Savages (2012)

Savages is undeniably Oliver Stone. It’s dark and ultra-violent; tense and explosive; upsetting yet magnetically compelling. Plus it features an awesome cast delivering knockout performances. I didn’t love it but I thought it packed a punch and was thoroughly entertaining.

Based on the novel by Don Winslow,  Savages tells the story of best friends Ben (Aaron Johnson — who is completely unrecognisable from the role that made him famous: Kick-Ass from Kick-Ass!!!) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch), a couple of laid back weed growers who are extremely good at what they do. That eventually becomes a problem for a Mexican cartel (led by Salma Hayek), who orders her enforcer (Benicio del Toro) to do something about it. The key to everything is the girl both boys are in love with and is equally in love with them, O (short for Ophelia — and played by Blake Lively).

It’s not a particularly mind-blowing premise, but Stone knows how to infuse each scene with his trademark intensity. There are plenty of really “full on” sequences and encounters that kept me on the edge of my seat — and sometimes all they’re doing is just talking. The film is relatively long at 131 minutes, but apart from the slightly misguided ending I found it to be thoroughly engaging.

The film is called Savages because it’s about how people, regardless of their “normal” disposition, return to their animal instincts when they become desperate. And just about every major and minor character in this gets desperate at some stage.

The performance from the entire cast is outstanding. The film’s protagonists, played by Kitsch and Johnson, are pretty good as the polar opposite best friends, but they’re practically forgotten when pitted against the powerhouse duo of Del Toro and Hayek. I haven’t seen Hayek in her Oscar-nominated role in Frida, so to me this is the best she’s ever been. Del Toro’s performance, on the other hand, was every bit as exhilarating as his Oscar-winning role in Traffic, and I do hope he gets at least nominated again at the next Oscars.

The story itself is narrated by Lively, which is a strange choice considering how irritating her voice is. But to Lively’s credit, she showed once again (following her solid performance in The Town) that she can actually act. Sure, she plays a spoiled but neglected rich girl much like her character in Gossip Girl, but she makes us believe in their unorthodox relationship.

Rounding out the cast is John Travolta, a corrupt FBI agent. It’s the same obnoxious douchebag role he is so good at (or bad at) these days (Face/Off, Swordfish, The Taking of Pelham 123, etc) but he surprised me by being unusually effective. Maybe the other actors forced him to up his game.

Oh, and Emile Hirsch has a small role as well. I think he’s great.

While Savages is undoubtedly compulsive viewing, it lacks that little extra something to lift it into the category of elite Oliver Stone films. But it’s probably still his most satisfying film in years, clearly a cut above more recent efforts such as Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, W, World Trade Center and Alexander.

3.75 stars out of 5