Director: Peter Berg
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster
A few days ago, I was able to go see the new war film Lone Survivor. A (mostly) true account of the infamous failed Special Forces mission, Operation Redwing, in the Afghanistan Mountains in 2005.
The film is based off of the book, Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10, written by the survivor of the mission, Marcus Luttrell and co-author Patrick Robinson, a British military writer. This book was, and still is, one of my favorites and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in our military or just a gripping and true read.
The movie opens with actual training footage of Navy SEALS and pans over to Afghanistan where Marcus (Wahlberg), Murphy (Kitsch), Danny (Hirsch), and Axe (Foster) are at an American base where they get briefed and told the four of them are going out into the mountains to find and potentially eliminate a high-ranking terrorist leader. The men are deployed and reach the observation point and locate their target in the village below. After being stumbled upon by goat herders and forced to make a problematic ethical decision, they are set upon by dozens of enemy combatants and a long and difficult firefight ensues.
Peter Berg, who has previously directed films Hancock (2008) and Battleship (2012) and the television show Friday Night Lights (2006), was chosen by Universal to direct back in 2007. Berg really went the extra mile for his film. He accepted the minimum allowed salary for directing and, before filming began, met with the families of the deceased soldiers he would be portraying. Berg lived with a group of Navy SEALS in Iraq for over a month and had Marcus Luttrell and other SEALS posted on the set as advisors for the movie. The actors themselves had no easy task, as they also went through weeks of SEAL training and military schooling.
I’m very picky, so while I enjoyed the film, there were many differences from the book, such as that Marcus was not able to witness the rescue chopper being shot down, nor was he near death or in cardiac arrest when he was rescued. All of those can be chalked up to Hollywood, but I had two big issues with the movie. First was that Marcus did not walk to find water; his legs were too injured, so he had to crawl seven miles looking for water and avoiding the soldiers hunting him. Second, Marcus was at the village far longer than three days and there was no huge battle at the end between the villagers and Al Qaeda. In reality, they tried numerous times to sneak into the village and capture Marcus, who was constantly being moved and hidden by the villagers.
While overall the movie was an enjoyable adaptation of a good book, there were many things I would have liked to see. The film focuses on the action part much more than the characterization; while the battle was important, the aftermath could have been expanded on. My biggest peeve with the film was the lack of attention to the village. I don’t think the depth of what the village did for Marcus was explained in full. How each Pashtun took on the burden of his protection and care, how each night was full of tension and terror at the possible return of the enemy soldiers, and how much the children of the village meant to him.
All in all, the film is certainly worth seeing. It’s full of language, blood, and guts and certainly earned its ‘R’ rating. If you want to see a good war movie, what our servicemen face overseas, or want to watch a story of American heroism and Afghani humanity, Lone Survivor is for you.