“Lone Survivor” is a true, albeit Hollywood gussied up, story of Operation Red Wings, a fatal 2005 mission by a Navy SEAL team to kill or capture one Ahmad Shah (Yousuf Azami).
It is the true story of the survivor Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell ,played here by actor Mark Wahlberg who also produced.
It is, as all SEAL operations go, carefully planned with enormous attention paid to detail, but as the poet Robert Burns told us, “The best laid plans of mice and men, oft go awry.”
The Taliban chief is high in the mountains of Afghanistan with his soldiers. It is the job of our heroes to find him, and then kill him, or take him prisoner. Once we, the audience, get a load of the terrain (shot in New Mexico) we can plainly see how almost impossible the job will be.
One of the team, looking through his binoculars at the village below, cracks. “They said he had 20 men, he’s got an army.” They knew then that their intel was seriously flawed.
We watch these brave warriors, Matthew Axelson (Ben Foster), Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) and author Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg) as they are stranded on the side of a craggy mountain side, fully exposed to the view of any enemy below who could simply look up at the sunset. Big mistake.
Someone at headquarters apparently failed to check their info. Any clerk at U.S. Cellular could have told them that there were few bars on their cells in that location. They keep getting dropped calls when they radio in, and finally, one of them, a true hero, Petty Officer Michael Murphy, climbs under intense fire to the top peak, to get a signal and radio in to headquarters, where almost no one seems to be paying close enough attention.
Early on, as the men are hiding in the brush, a trio of goat herders stumbles onto them. The team ties them up and then ponders the situation. The realists say damn the Geneva Convention, kill them now. Some dissent. In fact, Luttrell makes the final vote to let them go, a choice he barely lived to bitterly regret.
The realists were right. The herders ran down and blew the whistle, resulting in, after an hour firefight, the death of all but one.
The film is painful to watch. We watch four men valiantly fight off a small army of Taliban fighters. Each one dies a gruesome, painful death, preceded by shrapnel and bullet wounds, and then by falling down steep cliffs, bouncing off huge boulders, craggy stones and trees.
At the end, each of them, bloodied and nearly blind, dies horribly. Some veterans will surely say it could all have been avoided if they had simply killed the goat herders and climbed out. A moral dilemma. War is full of them. That’s why they call it Hell.
Luttrell, of course, survives. In real life, not in the movie, he is not only shot up, but is paralyzed from the waist down, and is forced to crawl for seven miles to be found by friendly villagers, who rescue him and save him from the Taliban. How that plays out is well done. It should be left to you to watch.
Wahlberg is Wahlberg, heroic and muscular, a fair to middling actor I just happen to like, perfectly suited for this role. Emile Hirsch, Taylor Kitsch and Ben Foster act, fight and die nobly. Foster, once again, excels.
The cast at home base is filled out with good actors like Eric Bana, who tries to rescue the team. Director Peter Berg, a former actor (“Chicago Hope”) wisely abandoned his acting career to become an A-list director. (“The Kingdom,” “Hancock” “Friday Night Lights”).
The film is splendidly directed, produced and acted. Ultimately it is yet another war movie, but John Wayne, who never served is not here, nor is Sylvester Stallone with his Marvel Comic like “Rambo.” This story is about a real “Band of Brothers,” husbands and brothers, sons and lovers, who died valiantly doing a job they truly loved. The book “Lone Survivor,” by Luttrell, I would think, more honorably serves their memories.
J.P. Devine is a former stage and screen actor.