Hollywood has acquired a justifiable reputation in recent years of doing a hackneyed job in conveying military history. With few exceptions (Saving Private Ryan, Zero Dark Thirty), most Hollywood blockbusters (The Patriot, Pearl Harbor) have failed to convey scenes of battle in a realistic manner. Lone Survivor, in theaters in Los Angeles and New York City on Dec. 25 and nationwide on Jan. 10, 2014, takes a major step in the right direction.
Lone Survivor, in theaters in Los Angeles and New York City on Dec. 25 and nationwide on Jan. 10, 2014, takes a major step in the right direction.
Lone Survivor’s realistic portrayal of combat has a lot to do with the fact that the film is based on former U.S. Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell’s book, Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10. The movie corrected the mistake of the book’s title (the operation and related operations were named for hockey teams) and correctly called the mission that Luttrell’s SEAL team was on by its actual name, Operation Red Wings. Luttrell, who served as a technical advisor on the film and had a brief cameo as an unnamed Navy SEAL, is portrayed to good effect by Mark Wahlberg in the film adaptation.
The book and the movie tell the tale of a 2005 mission to capture a top Taliban lieutenant that goes seriously awry. The rest of Luttrell’s SEAL Team is made up of Lt. Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch), and Matthew Axelson (Ben Foster). Kitsch in particular does a stellar job portraying the intensity of Murphy, who received the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions during Operation Red Wings. The fact that this went unmentioned in the credits, where photos of the real life participants of Operation Red Wings was shown, was an oversight.
These men were fighting for their and their teammate’s lives, and that comes across loud and clear.
The film doesn’t shy away from showing the deaths of Navy SEALs or of the other special operations forces that took part in an aborted rescue attempt. Director Peter Berg deserves credit for showing the intensity of the firefight between the SEALs and the Taliban in its cold brutal reality. These men were fighting for their and their teammate’s lives, and that comes across loud and clear.
Anyone who has seen some of Berg’s other films, especially Friday Night Lights, will recognize that he is the man behind the camera for Lone Survivor. From the use of music from the band Explosions in the Sky, to long pans of the desolate landscape, the film is distinguished by the marks of a Berg work. In Lone Survivor, New Mexico stands in for the mountainous Afghan terrain encountered by the SEAL team.
Lone Survivor is a worthy cinema tribute to the bravery and sacrifice of the SEALs and members of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment who took part in Operation Red Wings.
Despite the well-crafted scenes of battle, the end of Lone Survivor feels rushed. Luttrell’s rescue from certain death by Afghan villager Mohammad Gulab, while given some screen time, was given relatively short shrift. This became especially more notable when you take into account a recent 60 Minutes segment where Luttrell referred to his relationship with Gulab as being “brothers in blood.” The relationship between Luttrell and the Afghan villager who saved his life is a poignant element, especially when contrasted with a particular tough choice that the SEALs had to make earlier in the movie.
Though derided in some quarters for being “war porn,” Lone Survivor is more a sobering look at what the U.S. military has encountered and is encountering in Afghanistan, than a glorification of war. Whether Berg meant it or not, a viewer can’t help but wonder, as U.S. forces continue to battle in Afghanistan, seven plus years after Operation Red Wings, if it’s possible to “win” there. Despite all the technological advantages held by the SEALs in the movie, they were also betrayed by some of that very technology. Their inability to establish communications with headquarters due to the mountainous terrain left them exposed and at the mercy of the Taliban. When communication was briefly established, thanks to Murphy’s heroism, the helicopter bringing the rescue team was shot down. Some of those same technological limitations are still being encountered in Afghanistan today.
As the war in Afghanistan enters its 12th year, stories of heroism like those seen in Lone Survivor are certainly not rare, but are too rarely seen or heard of by the public. And this is where Lone Survivor truly succeeds.
Lone Survivor is a worthy cinema tribute to the bravery and sacrifice of the SEALs and members of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment who took part in Operation Red Wings. Despite everything that went wrong, the SEALs continued to fight for each other, a testament to their training and bravery. As the war in Afghanistan enters its 13th year, stories of heroism like those seen in Lone Survivor are certainly not rare, but are too rarely seen or heard of by the public. And this is where Lone Survivor truly succeeds.