Bluntly, I don't want to review Lone Survivor. I watched it on a screener DVD back before Christmas, and at that time concluded that my intense philosophical disagreements weren't going to be at all productive as the spine of a review - anyone who agrees with me would just end up depressed by what I'd say and anyone who disagrees would be angry - but that the movie itself was such a hash of flat characters and clumsy storytelling that I had nothing interesting to say about its technique. But it's heading to #1 at the American box office, and I made my stupid pledge years ago, so I'll at least throw a few thoughts out there without going to the work of a full-on analysis of the thing.

If Berg and producer-star Mark Wahlberg were at all sincere in their widely-expressed intention that this should be a dignifying tribute to the Navy SEALS who died during a failed operation to kill a Taliban leader in 1995, leaving just a lone survivor in the form of Marcus Luttrell, played by Wahlberg (no spoilers here: what the title doesn't give away, the first ten minutes of the film do in a flash-forward), surely they could have done a much better job of it than this. The four SEALS sent on that fatal mission have barely a dime's worth of differentiating characterisation, and it's literally only because the actors playing them are all familiar to me that I was able to tell them apart at all. Berg's screen adaptation of Luttrell's memoirs aims for nobility, but it ends up landing squarely in clichΓ©s from movies about soldiers stretching back 70 years or more, and the heroes he's trying to memorialise are presented as stock figures at best, saddled with wheezingly trite dialogue that makes them sound like reductive cartoons.

The story surrounding them breaks apart into four pieces of irregular size, opening with an all but explicit advertisement for the Navy that transitions into the best part of the film by far, a nuts-and-bolts look at what the mission consisted of on a practical and mechanical level, following the SEALS - Wahlberg as Luttrell, Taylor Kitsch as Michael Murphy, Emile Hirsch as Danny Dietz, and Ben Foster as Matt Axelson - as they're going about the business of soldiering, eventually slamming into a moral crisis that suffers from being the most conspicuously overwritten part of the script. Then we jump into a loud, hugely brutal combat sequence that is at once the most finely-made part of the film (the sound design alone is sort of miraculous), and also the most dubious, with Berg and cinematographer Tobias Schliessler lingering on the suffering of the four men with a visceral energy that emphasises the "died" part of "died for their country" with rather more slasher film glee than I could imagine being comfortable with. And then there's Luttrell's escape, a sequence that could be turned into a rich and involving movie all on its own, if Berg and company weren't too busy making this a fevered combat video game in the guise of a tribute film.

It's all very shallow, very glossy, very bloody, and very unpersuasive as serious drama; it's violence porn, really, and not even especially concerned about whether it's fetishising the Good Guys or the Bad Guys. And that comes right back to the characters, who simply aren't given enough life to make it possible to care for them once the shooting starts: the actors all do their best to be interesting and have personalities (Kitsch, I am surprised to say, doing far and away the best job of it, for my tastes), but they're still pretty rigid and brittle anyway. On the level of being a potent gutpunch of an experience, I guess this works, but it strikes me as being a trivialising, sensationalist way of paying tribute to anything, and far too unreflective to say anything largely interesting or worthwhile.

But I am a pacifist humanist, and Berg no doubt does not give a shit what I have to say.