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A Charlie Bielinski Pop-Ed: Critics Become Bogged Down in 'Lone Survivor' Politics

“Trigger-happy jingoism.”

The visuals are gripping, the sound effects magnificent. But to what end? This is a movie about an irrelevant skirmish that ended in near-total catastrophe, during a war we are not winning.”

“Doesn’t seem all that interested in depicting who they were as men.”

And perhaps my favorite …

“Glorifies these soldiers … as cartoon symbols of American Heroism.”

All of these quotes are from a few of the forty-one negative on Rotten Tomatoes for the film Lone Survivor, and there seems to be a common thread in these and in the other thirty-seven negative reviews. Each of them is either a comment on the unjust war that we are fighting or a statement on how the film serves as nothing more than a drum beating recruiting tool that will make young men jump out of their seats and run to the local recruiters office and sign up to serve their country.

When I first saw trailer for Lone Survivor, I went to Barnes and Noble at the end of the film I had gone to see and bought the book written by Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson. I had just finished reading No Easy Day, the book about the mission to kill Osama Bin Laden, and had been searching for another military story to read. I enjoy reading anything about military history, primarily Special Forces stories, because these men do something that I cannot imagine. They are given orders and follow those orders despite the danger to themselves and the realization that they might not be going home to their families.

I remember reading about Randy Shughart and Gary Gordon, two Delta Force soldiers, requesting to be dropped behind enemy lines in Mogadishu in Black Hawk Down and the two knowing that they had no way to get back out after they exited the helicopter. I cannot describe the feeling as I was reading the lines in the book and when I watched that scene unfold on the screen I struggled to breath as the tears ran down my face. I expected that my reaction would be very familiar as I finished Lone Survivor and waited for the movie to open in theaters.

Then I read some of the negative reviews from the early screenings. One of which I remembered and have gone back to read a few times after seeing the movie.

Lone Survivor exists not merely to detail the story of a mission gone wrong during the middle of the ongoing Afghanistan engagement, but to further advance the notion that a soldier dying in war is somehow noble or righteous no matter how just or unjust the war itself might be,” is how Scott Mendelson of Forbes describes the movie in his review. Mendelson’s review also went on to state that the enemies in the film are killed by video game like single shots and the Navy SEALs all take multiple bullets before dying.

I read that review and immediately became angry with the writer. I respect that a reviewer can have an opinion on a film but nearly all of the negative reviews are negative simply because the author doesn’t believe we should be fighting the war. I know that these writers think that way because each of them insists on stating that despite the way feel about the war, they will review the film and not let those feelings get in the way. To borrow a phrase from Shakespeare, “the critic doth protest too much, methinks” and these critics all sound like the guy who states that he is not a racist and goes on to make a racist comment. Many others beside myself were upset by that assessment as well and chose to state their disappointment in a talkback under the article, however I refrained from posting. Not surprisingly many of these same authors who have written negative reviews of Lone Survivor have written positive reviews of The Hurt Locker and other films that are critical of the current conflict.

I found the film to be a very fitting tribute to these men who died on a mountain in Afghanistan far from the people they care about. Of course there is no real character development other than to see a few pictures of the families of the men. After all, it is a two-hour film and there just isn’t the time to spend developing the background of the characters. It is very clear from the beginning of the film though that they love each other and would do anything for each member of their group.


The critics I am talking about here can’t use that word because the use of that word implies, at least to them, that the war is a just war. As a result they use words like jingoism, a word that shows up in no less than five negative reviews that I found online, because that word has such a negative connotation. As the mission progresses the three Navy SEALs make the brave decision to allow three sheep herders to run free after being discovered. The SEALs know that this decision will likely result in a firefight with the Taliban yet they release the sheep herders regardless of the thoughts of the firefight that almost certainly awaits them. This is the Shughart-Gordon breath-stealing, tear-inducing Black Hawk Down moment of Lone Survivor for me and it doesn’t disappoint. One of the negative reviews of the film, when discussing this scene, says that this is the moment where he decided how horrible the film was. He was upset that these four men where debating what to do with these three shepherds, two men and a boy. He found morally reprehensible that they should be allowed to even think of killing the shepherds.


One more time. Really?

It was at that point that I realized that to review the film as a technical piece would be an impossible task. Impossible because if you give the film a positive review you will be attacked by liberals as a war monger and if you give the film a negative review you will be attacked by conservatives as un-American.

If you take away some elements from almost all of the reviews of the film you are left with maybe a true idea of what to expect. That is that the film is technically proficient and tells a gripping story of four men who faced huge odds. If you already have your mind made up and are adamantly against the war there is a good chance you will hate the film, however you will have more proof that your viewpoint is the correct one. Similarly, if you love stories about the courage of members of the military this will provide you with another story to add to your collection of bravery and courage.
A Charlie Bielinski Pop-Ed: Critics Become Bogged Down in 'Lone Survivor' Politics Reviewed by Charlie Bielinski on 1/20/2014 Rating: 5

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