DVD Release Date: June 3, 2014
Theatrical Release Date: December 27, 2013 limited; wide January 10, 2014
Rating: R (forstrong bloody war violence and pervasive language)
Genre: Drama
Run Time: 121 min
Directors: Peter Berg
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Eric Bana, Jerry Ferrara, Ali Suliman, Yousef Azami

Depicting in relentless, violent detail the events of a 2005 Navy SEAL operation in Afghanistan that went tragically wrong, Lone Survivor is a movie in which its title is its biggest spoiler. Or so it would seem. Because as the grueling war-drama unfolds, the suspense comes not in who will survive this no-win scenario but how. The revelation is a twist I did not see coming, and even brings a degree of redemption to a war effort that has left so many Americans of all political stripes intensely conflicted.

Embracing the title's giveaway, Lone Survivor opens at story's end. Navy Corpsman Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg, 2 Guns) is being airlifted to safety as we hear his thoughts in voice-over (pulled from Luttrell's memoir on which the film is based; Luttrell also served as an on-set consultant). From this prologue, the narrative then jumps back to the lead-up to the mission in which four members of SEAL Team 10 were ordered to capture or kill the notorious Taliban leader Ahmad Shahd, hidden deep in the region’s mountainous terrain.

Our introduction to these soldiers is expressed through the kind of profane camaraderie we've come to expect from close-knit military platoons – laughing, pranking, competing, and hazing. But director Peter Berg (in a tour-de-force rebound from the tentpole-bomb Battleship) envelops this testosterone-fueled atmosphere with a tender, even elegiac tone. For him, this is a fraternity not in the juvenile sense but rather its most venerable.

The 4-man squadron of sniper-specialist SO's (Special Warfare Operators) were lead by Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy (Taylor Kitsch, TV's Friday Night Lights). After maneuvering to and establishing their position high above Shahd’s village, the team is met with an unexpected scenario that immediately risks compromise. Given their far outpost and the mission’s degree of difficulty, the call to retreat is not the desired choice. They may not get this chance again.

What unfolds is a compelling debate: "just war" theory at its most specific and visceral level. Staying may require killing potentially innocent people, including children. As if the toil of the mission weren't enough, now it's been compounded exponentially with a heavy moral burden. The decision they reached – which comes after a tense back-and-forth, resolved only by Murphy's gut-instinct orders – was morally right, but proved to be strategically fatal.

And that's when the carnage begins. The SEAL platoon is ambushed and outnumbered by Taliban fighters, and for a third of the film the resulting battle is an onslaught of gory combat brutality. The soldiers slowly-but-progressively become bullet-ridden as they continue to engage, maneuver, cover, and struggle to fend off the attackers and buy time to be saved by a rescue team. That maneuvering adds not just to the difficulty but also injury, causing the soldiers to take multiple bone-cracking spills down deep rocky inclines. The experience, to say the least, has an extremely high wince-quotient.

As punishing as it may be for the audience, the effect of enduring this gauntlet makes its point – to respect and honor these four soldiers (and the countless soldiers they represent) for their valiant, though tragic, attempt to do what is right, and to defend their brothers ahead of themselves (and that includes the other SEAL Team 10 members who fought to save them).