Hollywood has often fallen foul of the post 9/11 era, with Peter Berg's The Kingdom (2007) just one of many films struggling to make sense of the politics.
But he makes amends here with a visceral, enemy-to-enemy combat thriller which combines personal heroism with every soldier’s ‘band of brothers’ mentality and gut instinct to survive.
Even though the title and some opening medical shots give too much away and it’s all a bit jingoistic, you’ll still be on the edge of your seat about the outcome as four US Navy Seals try to escape with their lives against overwhelming numerical and physical odds in war-torn Afghanistan.
Based on 'true acts of courage' and a US best-seller, the pre-credits sequence offers a masterclass in how to set up a film, with lines like: ‘I’m going to introduce you to something called ‘Not being able to breathe’.
A stunning landscape shot features an approaching helicopter flying under the stationary camera.
The development of characters like Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), Matt Axelson (Ben Foster), Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) and Mike Murphy (Taylor Kitsch) is never as impressive as the action sequences, which will leave even James Cameron breathless when he sees them.
Berg is effectively offering four Rambos for the price of one – the Seals’ bullet-whistling gunfight scenes are a combination of Saving Private Ryan on a ridge, Heat on a hill and Open Range out in the open. Bang, bang, bang! And bang again!
The mountainous terrain offers eye-watering reminders of the broken bones in Touching The Void (2003), fleshed out with rifles, machine guns, bullets and bombs instead of ice picks and climbing boots.
Lone Survivor illustrates how soldiers have to be trained to the nth degree to enable their instinct to override a mere mortal’s desire to either wilt, panic or die.
By embracing the inanity and sheer stupidity of war to this level, it also raises the cinematic bar for wannabe recruits to seriously wonder if they have what it takes.
As for viewers watching a film that could just as easily have been called The Hurt Shocker, this is not ‘entertainment’ as such – many will desire painkillers, not popcorn.
After briefly detailing a 2,000-year-old ethical code called Pashtunwali, to explain the contextual nature of what is a surprisingly moving ending, the end credits salute the real-life members of Operation Red Wings.