Saturday, March 27, 2010

2 Reviews: Lone Survivor and Up In the Air

Review: Lone Survivor, by Marcus Luttrell (and Patrick Robinson)

I got this book from my Step-dad for Christmas in 2009, and could tell from the blurb on the back cover that it was right up my alley, as far as books I enjoy reading - though admittedly, I can only take books like this once in a while. The emotions and tension, intensified by the fact that it's a true story, means I can only take so much.

Here's the text from the back cover:

On a clear night in late June 2005, four U.S. Navy SEALs left their base in northern Afghanistan for the mountainous Pakistani border. Their mission: to capture or kill a notorious al Qaeda leader. Less than 24 hours later, only one of those Navy SEALs remained alive.
This is the story of fire team leader Marcus Luttrell and the desperate battle in the mountains that led, ultimately, to the largest loss of life in Navy SEAL history. But it is also, more than anything, the story of the men who fought ferociously beside him until he was the last one left. Luttrell recalls their valiant efforts in one of the most powerful narratives ever written about modern warfare -- a stirring tribute to his teammates, who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

You may wonder if that back cover blurb is hype. In my estimation, to the contrary, it is understated. This tale, once it gets rolling, grabs you by the throat.

I say "once it gets rolling", because really, the first half (or so) of the book focuses primarily on first Luttrell's childhood, and then a detailed account of the incredible training that a Navy SEAL must undergo before earning his trident. They aren't just pushed to their limits, physically and mentally, but beyond. It is necessary to cover the training so thoroughly, since it helps put into context the mission and the men, the unity and camaraderie among SEALs that transcends anything we can grasp, really, unless we have successfully gone through it ourselves. Having read the detail about the training, a reader (like me) can come as close to grasping that unity and brotherhood as possible -- without this section of the book, I doubt the real survival part of the story would carry as much weight.

Once the doomed mission begins in earnest, the writing pulls no punches. Sent deep into the Afghani mountains, about as isolated as men can get - yet supremely confident and capable - the team was compromised in the most random manner. Perched on a ridge overlooking a village, perfectly camouflaged and still, they monitored the village, looking to identify an al Qaeda leader rumored to be among the residents below. Before they can make the ID, three goat herders out with their flock of goats just happen to come over their ridge and literally step right  onto them. They didn't see them until they literally were right on them.

The SEAL team holds them at gunpoint out of view while they decide what to do. It truly is an impossible situation. If they kill the goat herders, there will be this big flock of goats milling around, and soon more villagers will come investigating, probably bringing arms with them. It is common knowledge that our "rules of engagement" do not allow for injury or death of unarmed civilians (like the goat herders), and they know they can immediately contact Al Jazeera and get word of the deaths on the news immediately, which would mean investigation and likely trials for murder back in the states. This may seem silly, but it is, in fact, a very real concern, and the cause of no end of bitterness and anger from the troops over there, who feel they can't fight the way they need to in order to ensure victory.

The other option is to let the goat herders go, which they ultimately do, and hope against hope that they don't run right down and notify the Taliban and Al Qaeda forces that overrun the mountains there. They release the goat herders, and fall back, knowing that they likely just wrote their own death warrants. And, as they fear, less than an hour later, it is on, as 200 armed enemy fighters initiate a desperate fight to kill the four SEALs, including Luttrell.

His story of survival must be read to be believed.

I haven't read a book like this since With the Old Breed, by Eugene Sledge. It really wrung me out, and raised my already-high respect level for SEALs and fighting men in general up even higher. It has profanity, as you can imagine, but it also is a showcase for Marcus Luttrell's faith in God, as he reaches the very limits of his strength, endurance, sanity, hope...

Summary: 5/5 Highly recommended. An incredible survival story, made more intense by the knowledge that it actually happened.


Up In the Air: A Review

I watched the movie Up In the Air last night. Easily the best of the movie's I've seen that were nominated for Best Picture earlier this year. Terrific writing, great acting, well-filmed and edited. A little melodramatic in places, but it really worked well on many levels.

It's the story of a man (George Clooney) who travels the country, firing people for large companies that have to lay off lots of people, and don't want to do it themselves. Clooney isn't a freelancer - he is one of many agents that work for a company whose purpose is to come in and fire people, then leave again, to the next town, and next business in the throws of downsizing. He is good at his job and loves his life. He is also a motivational speaker (of sorts) who fits in speeches to groups about the advantages of living as simply as possible, without being burdened by things or other people.

His world is rocked by news that his company will be transitioning from in-person firing to a web-based remote system that will take him off the road and stick him in a cubicle at the home office from now on, firing people via webcam. The young woman (Anna Kendrick) who came up with this new system is (in Clooney's eyes) naive, unaware of the realities of actually having to fire people. She doesn't see why it has to be done face to face. Clooney's boss (Jason Bateman) wants to introduce the new system, but Clooney strenuously objects. Bateman proposes a compromise - Clooney must take the young, naive system designer out with him on the road for a few months, so she can get some real world experience.

The story is a good one, really, and the movie is peppered with tons of really effective, minor performances. I think my favorite was Amy Morton, who played one of Clooney's sisters in the film. But everyone, major and minor, turns in strong performances. Several sub-plots all wind themselves together, and there is a rather surprising turn of events at the end. By the time the end credits roll, it becomes evident that the name of the movie applies on several different levels, to several different characters. It really is well done.

There is a good amount of profanity, and a scene with a bare tush, if that bothers you. Otherwise, highly recommended.

Summary: 4/5 Great movie. Enjoyed it much more than Best Picture winner, The Hurt Locker.


Abbie said...

the book sounds really good dave! I'll have to borrow it in the summer! spring break came and went and was such a bust! totally lame... :( sorry for no scrabble games! I've got to get back homework already and all sorts of stuff! so busy :P

Krista said...

Lone Survivor sounds really good. It might be good to get out of my typical genre, too.

Up in the Air, can't remember if I ever seen a preview for it or not, but George is awesome and I'm not one to pass up a good film. I'll definitely have to see if redbox gets it, or get my dad to netflix it for me :)

Thanks for the solid reviews, Dave, all the best.

havah said...

I'd like to see Up in the Air. I'd seen the trailer but remained remarkably clueless as to what it was about, so thanks for the review.

The book sounds good too, but I'm going to skip it: Someone I'm very close to just landed in Afghanistan for a (supposed) year. I'm stressed enough. :)

logankstewart said...

I'm with Havah on this one. Now that my brother is in Afghanistan (also for a year), I don't think I'd "enjoy" something like this. The survival and faith is awesome, but I prefer to keep my thoughts away from that territory for now.

I fully intend on watching Up in the Air as soon as reasonably possible. Great reviews!

Crystal said...

Great reviews! I want to see Up In The Air.

Lone Survivor doesn't sound like my usual book genre, but when I've branched out in the past, I usually end up enjoying the book. If I come across it, I'll have to check it out.

Paula Titus said...

I think I may have to check out Lone Survivor also, sounds great. Thanks for the great reviews. :)

Krista said...

Yep, just redboxed Up in The Air! Gonna watch it tonight and since it was a 4 for you it'll probably be like a 6 or something for me! YAY! LOL! :D