Review: Lone Survivor – Great movie about a very bad day
Lone Survivor is based on the biographical book of the same title and tells the story of Petty Officer First Class Marcus Luttrell and three other members of Navy SEAL Team 10, who were ambushed while on a mission to capture a Taliban leader in the mountains of Afghanistan. Their day goes from bad, to worse to catastrophically FUBAR-ed, and Luttrell becomes the only survivor of the traumatic ordeal.
The film begins with a montage of real Navy SEALS in training, then transitions to Afghanistan where we’re introduced to Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg) and the members of his ill-fated team: Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch), Matt Axelson (Ben Foster) and Navy Lieutenant Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch). After a short time of getting to know the characters, they are sent out on a mission dubbed “Operation Red Wings,” where they are dropped onto the side of a rugged Afghani mountain and sent after a top tier Taliban leader.
After locating their target and then laying low until an opportunity to strike, their mission is compromised by local goat-herders who stumble upon the team. The group is then faced with a life and death decision and ethical dilemma. Do they kill the non-combatants, or let them go – knowing the locals will immediately give away the team’s location to the Taliban fighters?
The team seeks direction from their superiors, but communications are nearly impossible in the mountain terrain. Team leader Michael Murphy makes the decision to release the Afghanis, and as they feared the SEALS are quickly hunted down by dozens of Taliban fighters and they cannot call in air support due to the lack of radio and satellite signals.
What follows is some of the most intense wartime action seen on screen since Saving Private Ryan, as the four SEALS go up against an overpowering force of both men and nature on the dangerous cliffs of the Afghani mountainside.
Lieutenant Murphy sacrifices himself in an open area in order to reach his command base with a satellite phone, then the rushed rescue operation then goes awry and additional troops are killed in an RPG attack on their helicopter. In all, nineteen US personnel are killed this day in June, 2005.
With his teammates all killed, and with multiple injuries himself, Luttrell finally catches a break by coming across an Afghani man who is sympathetic to the US cause and takes the SEAL to his village and protects him until he can be rescued by U.S. forces.
Directed by Peter Berg (Battleship), Lone Survivor is one of the best war films I’ve seen and brings the audience so close to the action that you feel like a fifth member of the team. Even though I was familiar with the story from multiple news accounts (I have not read the book), the movie was still able to build seat-edge suspense.
The acting in this film is top-notch and Mark Wahlberg is at his best. The underrated Taylor Kitsch also does an excellent job as the leader of the team. The movie also stars Eric Bana as Lieutenant Commander Erik S. Kristensen, who was also killed during Operation Red Wings, and Ali Suliman as Mohammad Gulab, the Afgahani man who risks his family to help Luttrell.
Fine young men in a faraway land, giving their lives at the behest of their government, for imprudent and unclear reasons; it’s a story that is far too old, but Lone Survivor is a good reminder that our country is still at war and that we still have 47,000 troops in Afghanistan (even as we’re learning that the blood spilled and treasure spent in the Iraqi war was tragically wasted.)
While watching Lone Survivor I couldn’t help but think about the recent film The Wolf of Wall Street and wonder if the real people depicted in that bio-pic are really worth the sacrifices depicted in Lone Survivor. It’s very lucky for them and for all Americans, many of whom forget that every day there are soldiers thousands of miles away who are fighting on their behalf, that there are people like Marcus Luttrell willing to die for their country.
Lone Survivor is a fantastic film, but it became very obvious that the “true story” was being heavily embellished by Hollywood at the end of the movie. I’m not sure why director Peter Berg, who also wrote the movie, would not continue to lean towards the facts (as he does for most the film), but it certainly was not necessary to end the movie with a complete fabrication. It almost seems to lessen the actual sacrifices that were made by the troops.
Despite my minor complaint about Lone Survivor’s over-the-top ending, I feel this is an important and very well-done film that should be seen by every U.S. citizen. Would you let an enemy go knowing it may cost you your life and the lives of others? Are you willing to die for your country? Why are we even in Afghanistan and is it worth the cost? Although this isn’t necessarily a politically themed movie, there’s plenty here to talk about after seeing it. Grade: 8/10
Photos © Universal Pictures