Video Verdict: Reviews of ‘Lone Survivor,’ ‘Robocop’ and ‘Son of God’

From left to right, Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch and Mark Wahlberg play US Navy SEALs in “Lone Survivor.”

From left to right, Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch and Mark Wahlberg play US Navy SEALs in “Lone Survivor.”

This week’s home video releases include a remake of “RoboCop,” a film about the life of Jesus Christ and a fantastic military drama.

Lone Survivor

4 stars (out of four)
Rated R for strong bloody war violence and pervasive language
Universal
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand

Director Peter Berg’s “Lone Survivor” ranks alongside 2001’s “Black Hawk Down” and 1998’s “Saving Private Ryan” as one of the finest depictions of combat and military camaraderie put to screen.

The film is based on the true story of a group of Navy SEALs who found themselves trapped in hostile, Taliban territory during a covert mission in Afghanistan. The events took place in 2005, and Marcus Luttrell first recounted them in his 2007 book, “Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of Seal Team 10.”

Berg starts by introducing viewers to his key players, four SEAL teammates dispatched deep into Taliban-occupied Afghanistan with orders to capture Ahmad Shah, a resistance fighter noted for killing both U.S. Marines and civilians. The team leader is Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), and he is supported by Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), Matt “Axe” Axelson (Ben Foster) and Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch).

At first, the mission unfolds as planned. Things go wrong, however, when the SEALs are accidentally discovered by a group of unarmed goat herders. Although they know the herders will reveal their position, the soldiers opt to let them go rather than break military protocol by killing them. This action results in a lengthy and devastating shootout between the SEALs and Taliban fighters.

Much of the movie is dedicated to the firefight, but Berg makes “Lone Survivor” more than a simple action movie. During the lulls in combat, the director and his actors take care to develop the relationships between the characters. Although they realize they are in a desperate situation, the SEALs refuse to give up, supporting each other through the battle and doing everything possible to dispatch the seemingly endless parade of enemy combatants.

Although Berg has made other good movies – “Friday Night Lights,” “The Kingdom” and “Hancock” stand out – “Lone Survivor” is easily his best and his most important. The pacing of the film is breathless, yet he and his actors do an astonishing job of creating an emotional connection with viewers.

The acting is also wonderful. Wahlberg, Kitsch, Hirsch and Foster are believable as hardened military men who fight with a desire to serve their country and each other.

“Lone Survivor” received some attention during awards season, even earning Oscar nominations for sound mixing and sound editing. Unfortunately, most of the buzz focused on the movie’s status as an action film and not its historical significance and quality. Although “Lone Survivor” is a fine action movie, writing it off as a genre film doesn’t do it justice. It is a movie that defies genres, and it is easily as important as the 2013 projects that Oscar voters nominated for best picture.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include a making-of feature and a profile of the real-life soldiers portrayed in the film.

 

Robocop

2½ stars
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action including frenetic gun violence throughout, brief strong language, sensuality and some drug material
20th Century Fox
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand

In 1987, director Paul Verhoeven made a splash with “RoboCop,” a gem of a science-fiction movie that became one of the biggest hits of the year. Since Hollywood prefers remakes to fresh ideas, “RoboCop” is back for 2014, and director José Padilha does a passable, albeit easily forgettable, job with the material.

Joshua Zetumer updated the screenplay, bringing the story into the 21st century and making it more than a simple, scene-by-scene reshoot. This works to the project’s benefit, but it doesn’t change the fact that the concept isn’t as fresh and exciting as it was 27 years ago, especially since the original film spawned two sequels, a TV series and other spinoffs.

This time, Detroit Police Detective Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is nearly killed by a car bomb. Although severely injured, he is given a second chance at life when the tech company OmniCorp makes him a powerful cyborg with enhanced mental and physical capabilities. OmniCorp, which manufactures military robots, hopes Alex will ease public concern about robotics, meaning he is essentially a public relations stunt.

When Alex first awakens, he is horrified by what he has become, but – out of consideration for his wife and young son – he continues with the program, becoming an impressive crime-fighting weapon.

Although “RoboCop” is presented as broad science-fiction, it addresses a number of weighty topics, including corporate greed, appropriate use of technology and the strength of human willpower. Genre fiction is always best when used to explore current issues, and “RoboCop” 2014, like its predecessor, deserves credit for this. Unfortunately, it doesn’t examine these topics – or any others – with a fresh outlook.

Anyone who knows science-fiction is well acquainted with the themes introduced in “RoboCop,” and the familiar framework of the story makes the entire project feel redundant. There is an argument that Padilha has revitalized the “RoboCop” franchise for a new generation. He has also avoided the R-rated excess that was such a big part of Verhoeven’s original.

One can’t help but wonder, however, whether this story really needed a second coming. Often, a well-told tale is best left alone because things are never as thrilling the second time around.

Blu-ray extras include several behind-the-scenes features and deleted scenes.

 

Son of God

2½ stars
Rated PG-13 for an intense and bloody depiction of The Crucifixion, and for some sequences of violence
20th Century Fox
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD and digital download

If nothing else, “Son of God” offers an interesting business model to film producers because the movie is little more than a whittling down of already-available material.

Essentially, producers Mark Burnett and his wife, Roma Downey, have reduced their 10-hour, History Channel miniseries, “The Bible,” to a 138-minute tome on the life of Jesus Christ. On one hand, the movie makes sense. The miniseries was beautifully shot, Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado is an exceedingly pleasing Jesus and there is a strong audience for faith-based material. On the other hand, it’s difficult to understand the point of the project.

“The Bible” garnered strong ratings during its March 2013 TV run, and the full, 10-hour miniseries has been available on home video since early April. That makes “Son of God” nothing more than a CliffsNotes version of the broader project. It is essentially a film for Christian viewers with short attention spans.

In fairness, “Son of God” features some footage that was cut from the miniseries, and the film was initially rolled out to theaters. That made a little more sense than the home video release because it allowed viewers to watch the Christ story on the big screen.

No matter how one feels about the necessity of the movie, “Son of God” has problems that stretch beyond its conception. Although the film is appropriately reverent and always pleasing to look at, it feels ploddingly slow despite the vast amount of material it covers. The film follows Jesus from birth to resurrection, making sure to touch on all the most important moments of his journey. Viewers watch as he performs miracles, they sit in on the Last Supper and, of course, they view The Crucifixion. Sadly, they are allowed to do so passively.

As brutal as the imagery in Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” was, there is no denying the power of the work. Gibson did his best to put viewers in Jesus’ shoes, asking them to feel the pain of his sacrifice. “Son of God” allows us to watch as outsiders, and director Christopher Spencer only rarely delivers moments as gripping as Gibson’s film.

On the up side, Spencer and Morgado do a fine job demonstrating the majesty, charisma and kindness of Jesus. Some movies – including Gibson’s “Passion” – are so obsessed with Jesus’ trials that they fail to properly flesh him out. Here, he is beautifully rendered. Unfortunately, that is not the case with his disciples.

Peter, John, Judas, Thomas, Mary Magdalene and the rest of Christ’s followers are presented as little more than rough character sketches, and this detracts from the film’s emotional appeal while making it feel longer than it really is. Because of this, “Son of God” seems a largely pointless exercise. Fans of “The Bible” miniseries will do well to watch the entire program rather than this heavily truncated re-edit, and those who only wish to watch the story of Jesus have other, more-compelling cinematic options to choose from.

Blu-ray and DVD extras include a making-of video and several behind-the-scenes features.

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“The Motel Life”: Directors Alan and Gabe Polsky deliver a cinematic adaptation of Willie Vlautin’s novel. Emile Hirsch and Stephen Dorff star as brothers who flee the law after getting involved in a fatal, hit-and-run accident. Dakota Fanning and Kris Kristofferson also star.

“True Blood” – The Complete Sixth Season: The debut of the seventh and final season of “True Blood” airs on HBO at the end of this month. In the meantime, fans can dig into the 10 episodes presented on this boxed set. As always, the program focuses on the interaction between humans, vampires and other mythical creatures living in Louisiana. During season six, the conflict between vampires and humans reaches a boiling point.

“Falling Skies” – The Complete Third Season: This release includes 10 episodes of the TNT science-fiction drama about humans battling an alien invasion of Earth. Noah Wylie, Maxim Knight, Drew Roy, Seychelle Gabriel and Will Patton star.

“Pretty Little Liars” – The Complete Fourth Season: Twenty-Four episodes of the teen drama about four girls torn apart by the mysterious murder of one of their friends. Trojan Bellisario, Ashley Benson, Shay Mitchell and Lucy Hale star.

 

– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at forrest@forresthartman.com.

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