Film reviews: Lone Survivor | The Armstrong Lie

Disgraced drugs cheat Lance Armstrong. Picture: Getty
Disgraced drugs cheat Lance Armstrong. Picture: Getty
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FEW films dish their own ending quite as comprehensively as Peter Berg’s latest. Based on the experiences of Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell in Afghanistan in 2005, Lone Survivor sets up the background of a four-man team as they prepare for their mission to capture a Taleban leader in the Hindu Kush.

Lone Survivor (15)

Director: Peter Berg

Running time: 121 minutes

* * *

Will they all return? The title gives almost as much away as the The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford.

The opening archive footage of SEAL training makes you marvel that so many even survive basic training, since it involves drowning, hypothermia and extreme harassment from gung-ho instructors, before the film switches to Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster and Emile Hirsch joshing and bantering at base camp. An early distraction is that Wahlberg’s Luttrell is supposed to be 29 – a stretch for any actor in his 40s, and one that the former Marky Mark only partly pulls off. The grooved Wahlberg could only be mistaken for a man about to turn 30 if there was a back-story about a childhood spent doing the toughest paper round in the world.

Let’s put that to one side however, because the film is impatient to get on with Operation Red Wings, parachuting the quartet into Afghanistan, where they soon stumble across some local shepherds. Since one of them carries a weapons-grade walkie-talkie, the SEALs debate whether to take them prisoner, let them go, or “terminate the complication”. Eventually they opt for the most humane choice, and rather ungratefully the shepherds scoot off and alert large numbers of the Taleban as to the location of some ambushable American soldiers.

What follows is harrowing. Bullets crack, and a tumble down a rocky hillside is shown puncturing flesh and breaking bone in excruciating detail. A rescue mission goes disastrously wrong. We see big mechanical things blown apart in slo-mo, and soldiers pull out shrapnel or push in bits of bone.

This is uncomfortable for other reasons too. Berg’s approach to war has an almost lyrical aggrandisement; he is incapable, for instance, of resisting a shot where soldiers can be framed against a blood red dawn, like a really badass military recruitment ad. In the third act, a cute local kid with a great sense of timing acts in a manner that would feel hokey and misjudged 50 years ago in The Green Berets.

Berg is doubtless sincere about paying tribute to Luttrell and his comrades – you just wish his salute wasn’t so jingoistic and clichéd. When Foster’s sharpshooter mutters, “I am the reaper”, he all but sends up a flare signalling that in war movies, such hubris will not go unpunished.

Or maybe the problem is that audiences are aware that our battles aren’t that simple any more. War stories have become more restless and questioning – films like The Hurt Locker and Restrepo show soldiers who address what they are fighting for, and whether they are wanted. In comparison, Berg has fashioned an anachronistic chamber piece in which soldiers still fight in the name of comradeship, make sacrifices unquestioningly in the line of duty, and never speculate on the validity of the war they are fighting, or ponder a political or historical context.

• On general release from Friday

The Armstrong Lie (15)

* * *

WIKILEAKS and Fog Of War interrogator Alex Gibney turns his camera on Lance Armstrong, who won the Tour de France seven times in a row. He seemed unbeatable – but was that because he was a terrific athlete or a terrific cheat?

Gibney was originally hired to direct an uplifting documentary about Armstrong’s comeback in 2009, but when the doping scandal broke, the wheels came off that project and it was parked. Four years later, after Armstrong had confessed to blood transfusions, testosterone, hormones, and cortisone injections and lost his titles, Gibney decided to revisit and overhaul his material, detailing how Armstrong was able to hide in plain sight. The result is a portrait of bare-faced fibs, a general complicity in maintaining a superhero myth, and the near-universal use of performance-boosters in cycling. In particular, Gibney finds it difficult to get past the idea that Armstrong shamelessly lied to everyone, including Gibney.

Armstrong’s former teammates provide a wealth of information on how he got away with it for so long, but the film is short on new bombshells, and while Armstrong may express regret, the documentary never nails whether he is sorry he was dishonest, or just sorry he was caught.

• On general release

Journal De France (15)

* *

CLAUDINE Nougaret showcases the work of her partner, the photographer Raymond Depardon, as he travels around France capturing his country’s life and landscapes and reflecting on his past adventures as a photojournalist.

Well known in France, Depardon took his camera into war zones such as Chad and Biafra, encountered stars such as Alain Delon and Jean-Luc Godard, and infuriated Valéry Giscard d’Estaing to the point of having his work banned. Depardon is engaging, but so reserved that he never quite comes into focus.

• On selected release at Glasgow Film Theatre

Out Of The Furnace (15)

* * *

MEN with hollowed out faces, Sam Shepard as a grizzled sage, Pearl Jam on the soundtrack and scenes so reminiscent of The Deer Hunter that someone even stalks and shoots a deer. Welcome to Out Of The Furnace, a self-important economic parable about burnt-out men, delivered with all the freshness of Bono popping up at a president’s birthday party.

Christian Bale stars as Russell, with a righteous jaw so clenched that he may break a tooth. A decent sort, Russell just about manages to hold together his family and a job at the steel mill, until a drink driving accident sends him to jail for six years. When he comes out, his girlfriend (Zoe Saldana) has moved on to the local cop (Forest Whitaker), his dad has died, and his traumatised Iraq vet brother Rodney (Casey Affleck) is trying to clear his debts by taking dives in bare-knuckle brawls.

Director/co-writer Scott Cooper was previously responsible for Crazy Heart, which won an Oscar for Jeff Bridges as a drunken country singer. Out Of The Furnace is a more overworked ballad, caught between a downbeat hymn to the working man and a vengeful howl.

Especially off-key is the showy brutality of Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson), a backwoods sociopath who runs a crystal meth kingdom and looks awfully buff for someone with such a dissipated lifestyle. Come to that, Affleck’s bloodied fighter still has a baby face and all his original nosebone. All in all, about as gratifying as two hours with some of Bruce Springsteen’s worst albums.

• On general release

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