Lone Survivor

Spoiler Alert! The title of this movie is Lone Survivor.

Despite that big giveaway, Lone Survivor is a pretty good war movie. Set in 2005 in Afghanistan, the film is based on true events.

Four Navy SEALs are sent to check out a village where a Taliban leader is believed to be hiding out. The frogmen (who do this mission on dry land) are Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Dietz (Emile Hirsch) and Axe (Ben Foster).

After being ‘coptered in and dropped off, they scoot across a mountaintop and begin to monitor the village below. Their communications gear fails and they cannot make contact with their base commander (Eric Bana).

So they wait. Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, up walks a group of locals with a herd of goats. They are unarmed. Do the SEALs kill them, tie them up or let them go on their way? Alas, they choose the last option, which soon leads to a confrontation with Taliban fighters.

The SEALs engage in a firefight that is fierce and brutal. The battle is on a hillside and the four Americans take some tough falls down the inclines. Being outnumbered by a large margin, all except Luttrell are eventually taken down. With help from a group of locals who are anti-Taliban he makes it out alive.

Lone Survivor is not a political film. It does not judge American involvement in the region. The men who fight are fighting for their county, yes, but also for one another.

I read Jon Krakauer’s excellent book Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman last year. It described a mission in Afghanistan with bad planning, communication snafus and clumsy execution not unlike this one. The two tales do not inspire great faith in our military.

They do, however, generate appreciation for the men who fight. Stick around for the sequence at the end of the film which offers a salute to the real life fighting men.

Closed Circuit

Ever had a friend (or a comedian) tell you a joke with a great setup? One that gets you ready for a big payoff? And then… the punch line is not that funny?

Closed Circuit, though not a comedy, is a bit like that. The setup is tremendous but the payoff falls way short.

The film’s clever opening sequence presents an increasing number of security camera views of a busy London market. When the number of images onscreen hits fifteen, a terrorist bomb explodes. Coming just four months after the Boston Marathon bombing (in which suspects were identified from security footage) this film initially appears to be particularly timely.

When a suspect is brought in, Martin (Eric Bana) and Claudia (Rebecca Hall) are chosen to work as defense counsels. Actually, Claudia is a special advocate and Martin is a replacement defense attorney. At this point, the setup gets muddied with rules regarding the case. Supposedly, Claudia and Martin cannot share information with one another. Here comes another potentially interesting wrinkle: they are ex-lovers whose breakup was acrimonious.

Because of the complex rules regarding the case, which is being tried behind closed doors, and the fact that the government is sharing details with these two on a severely limited basis, they are forced to seek information on their own. But the British government is keeping an eye on them as they try to figure things out.

Despite all these contrivances, the potential for a strong finish still remains until the story seems to lose its mojo. Its resolution may be an accurate depiction of real life, but this is a fictional narrative that might’ve benefited from a different wrap up.

James Broadbent, who sometimes seems to be in every movie set in Britain, appears as the UK Attorney General. He usually plays a nice guy, but here his AG is a bit devious. Bana’s voice sounds amazingly, distractingly like Liam Neeson’s in many instances. Hall, a statuesque beauty, displays great mobility in high heels. (Or was it her double?)

Closed circuit video is used admirably in other parts of Closed Circuit after the great opening. Director John Crowley makes the point that our lives are being observed by others. That’s not news to most of us.

Closed Circuit coulda been a contender. Instead it gets a one-way ticket to Palookaville.