The egregiously underrated Ben Foster plays the unfortunate man shot by Ruth, but he survives his wounds and continues to be involved with the life of Ruth who is a single mother due to Bob's incarceration. The character of Patrick Wheeler is probably the nicest character found in any film released in 2013. Wheeler does not become a bitter man from being shot, rather he is as decent as a man probably could be in his circumstances. The playing of such a man is a challenge for any actor, because there are many pitfalls for such a character. An actor could easily be too much in his portrayal, he could easily be overshadowed by the less humble characters, or worst of all the actor could seem disingenuous in their portrayal. Ben Foster does not fall into anyone of these pitfalls.
This is a bit of a departure for Foster actually because even in his quieter roles there usually is an underlying intensity somewhere to be found there is not any intensity, and nor should there be as Patrick is not an intense man. It is also a part where Foster does not sound or have the presence he usually has in anyway. Ben Foster undergoes a transformation with this role, even though he does it in such an unassuming way that you don't even notice it. Foster disappears completely into his characterization of Patrick Wheeler as the soft spoken Texan, and has such a true maturity with his performance. Foster flawlessly creates his character here, as he makes Patrick Wheeler such a real part of the setting of the film, and what he does in his creation of Patrick makes it all the easier to accept how kind his character is.
Foster is amazing in every scene that he shares with Rooney Mara as Patrick tries to so gently romance Ruth while informing her about Bob's most recent prison escape. What is so fantastic about Foster's performance is that Patrick says only very little about his feelings toward Ruth, it all really mostly conveyed through Foster's portrayal. Foster is so wonderfully sweet in his work here though because there is nothing forceful about Wheeler attraction to Ruth. Foster perfectly conveys the attempt of a timid man to reveal his love, which is not helped because Foster suggests well that Patrick knows it is a troublesome situation altogether. Foster only ever makes Patrick's concern and cares for Ruth so genuine in just every little glance, and every one of his gentle words he almost seems to struggle to say at times.
I found myself fascinated by Foster's performance, because there is never a single false moment throughout his portrayal of the goodness of his character. The way he excels in this part actually got me thinking that he would have been the perfect choice for portraying Samuel Bass in 12 Years a Slave. Even in a scene like when Ruth basically questions why Patrick keeps coming around to to the house, and Patrick states simply that he won't come back if he's not wanted. The scene could have easily seemed overly pathetic or like Patrick was trying to make her feel guilty, but Foster does not allow for anything like that because he makes it only true to the man that he has developed. Foster makes him believably this humble, and in turn makes Patrick's attempted romance particularly poignant.
Foster's best scene though comes when Ruth steps around admitting to Patrick that she was the one who actually shot him. The scene is an incredible scene as Patrick comes closest to outright stating his love for her while basically saying he completely forgives her for shooting him. It's an extremely moving scene because Foster's performance is filled with such warmth, and as well how he brings the effort in Patrick's words. His portrayal of Patrick's shyness is completely authentic, and when Patrick goes as far as he does in the moment Foster shows that it really was very difficult for Patrick to make his leap. The whole scene considering the completely forgiving nature of Patrick could have been absurd, but Foster's realization of Patrick's nature is something vivid and only for a lack of a better word beautiful.
There is another problem with the film and that is with the performances of 3 of the four main men. Emile Hirsch always seems like Emile Hirsch in the film and does not make much of an impact. I think Taylor Kitsch is probably second best of the main four because his character is suppose to be a straight arrow and his mostly bland performance does at least get that quality of the character across. The lead of the film and the one who plays the titular character Mark Wahlberg seems like he is a different kind of movie. Wahlberg is acting though he is giving the same type of performance he gave in Two Guns, but the problem is Two Guns was suppose to be a fairly light romp this was not. His performance makes that last third in particular feel more like a standard Hollywood action film rather than a realistic depiction of war.
Then there is Ben Foster who is in a different league from the rest of the actors in basically every way. Foster's performance has none of the bad qualities found in the other actors even though they are given very similar material to play off from. In the early scenes where the other actors might be trying a bit hard to set up the camaraderie of the men with their antics, Foster always seems much more with his character then they, and hides the effort unlike Wahlberg and Hirsch. Those scenes in the scheme of things don't really matter so much though as the meat of the film is really once the men go on their mission. The men goes south quickly when they come across a group of three goat herders whom they temporary imprison and have decide what exactly to do with them, as letting them go will end the mission and put them in danger.
In the scene where the four men debate what to do with the three herders Foster absolutely owns the scene without question. This performance is more in line what he is best known for, which is his intensity, and he is best known for this for a reason. Foster uses his intense presence so brilliantly, and it is rather interesting that he has more of an impact in the scene than Wahlberg or Hirsch despite them actually giving somewhat louder performances in the scene. Foster frankly cuts right through the scene right to the very point of what's going on and what it means. When Axe says that they should kill the old men and two boys Foster does not show him to be some sort of psychopath monster, but rather he honestly shows the fierce determination of Axe's belief that the terrorist leader needs to be stopped and killed no matter what.
Even when it is decided to let the men leave, and Axe goes along with this decision you can see in Foster's eyes the sense that Axe knows this very well might mean all their deaths. Foster brings the emotional weight to the scene with such power, and this only continues once the men start to get surrounded by enemy combatants forcing them to fight for their lives. Where sometimes Peter Berg's direction and the other actors's performances don't quite bring the conflict alive as they should, Foster's performance definitely does. The strain of battle is seen in every bit of frame, and even though the firefight jumps from one man to another, Foster kept my attention throughout. The very idea of the battle becomes realized through his work particularly as the battle continues to wage on.
Every second counts with Foster's work here as he reflects every part of the battle in his performance. You can see his properly restrained viciousness as a soldier when he kills every enemy he spots, and always that desperate will to survive the mission. He is particularly effective in every scene where Axe receives a wound because he actually brings the pain out through his performance. We see him getting beaten and it is particularly brutal to watch because of how well he shows the blunt physical affects of his wounds. Foster gives an actual depiction of a man dying slowly here. There is not dramatic sudden death, but rather a slow demise. He is absolutely heartbreaking in the scene where Axe asks Wahlberg's character to send a message to his wife and in the scene he brings the sacrifice of the man powerfully to life.
I love both of these performances and I have to say these are two supporting performances that are exactly what a supporting performance should be. In both cases he completely fulfills everything in regards to his roles. He absolutely is the kind police officer who only has the best intentions, and he is absolutely the soldier who believes in his cause. Foster in his performances improves both films just with from presence as Saints could have easily been uninteresting in its non crime ridden scenes, but Foster never allows that, and if Foster had not been in Lone Survivor the film would have been sorely lacking in the intensity needed for such a film. In fact if it were not for him I might be far more negative toward Lone Survivor as a whole. He goes above and beyond in both roles and does what one would want from all supporting performances. These are two great performances from a great actor.