Operation Redwings, a special operations mission in the highlands of Afghanistan, went tragically wrong. The new movie “Lone Survivor” tells the story in riveting fashion and, as a result, now perches atop the nation’s box office. And that offends a lot of angry birds on the left. LA Weekly, for example, sneers that the film is all "muscles and machismo," charging it is a senseless glorification of war.
Such catcalls reveal more about the reviewer than the movie. They betray unbridled political correctness and an unshakable belief that war is an unspeakable act of evil invented by neocons. Such a world view inevitably leaves movie critics distanced from the real world.
The truth is that, regardless of what anyone thinks about the virtue of the war in Afghanistan, there was virtue in fighting that war—just as there is in fighting most any war, on all sides.
Conflict always produces examples of courage under fire, of soldiers who fight—to the death if need be—for the noble purpose of serving their country. “Lone Survivor” is an unsparing depiction of how the bravest of the brave make war.
Let’s stipulate that all movies are, well, movies. They are not reality, no matter how hard they may strive to recreate reality.
That said, Peter Berg’s cinematic version of the book by U.S. Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell—the real-life “lone survivor”—comes closer than most to showing how exhausting, confusing, desperate, violent, and tragic combat at the edge is in real life. Slamming a filmmaker for making a war film that has too much war is like complaining there is too much singing in “Singing in the Rain.”
Noisy and bloody, “Saving Private Ryan” (1998) didn’t produce nearly the same angst, though the film’s not-too-dissimilar story about combat in World War II had just as high a body count.
While that movie was mostly fiction, its depiction of battle was more right than wrong. But, nobody went after Steven Spielberg. The big difference: “Ryan” was made before 9/11 and depicted a war that had ended more than a half century earlier. “Lone Survivor,” for some, is too close for comfort.
“The Hurt Locker” (2008), a fictional story about a bomb squad in Iraq at the height of the post-invasion violence, also has a lot in common with “Lone Survivor.” It, too, depicts heroically brave soldiers and their small piece of war. And the critics loved it.
That was because director Kathryn Bigelow made a smart move. She broke the code on how to make a film that would be popular with Hollywood progressives even as the anti-war movement across America was cresting.
Her movie made only the sparest references to the war itself. The lead character was an “everyman’ of war who could have been fighting in any war at any time.
But “Lone Survivor” couldn’t do that. It is a true story, and there is a survivor. It had to be a movie about particular people at a particular time and place.
Taken together, the response to these three films shows that the critics who are unhappy with “Lone Survivor” are saying more about their politics than they are about the movie.
They want Iraq and Afghanistan to be remembered as unwinnable worthless wars. That requires disparaging any portrayal of American warriors performing virtuous deeds.
But the deeds portrayed in “Lone Survivor” are true. And no amount of sneering by effete reviewers can change that fact.
Peter Berg’s film may not win over progressive critics or wrest an Oscar from Hollywood’s glitterati, but it is as good a war movie as has ever been made. More importantly, it’s an honorable depiction of how honorable men make war.
James Jay Carafano is vice president of foreign and defense policy studies The Heritage Foundation. Follow him on Twitter @JJCarafano.