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Lone Survivor - Movie Review

4 stars

Writer/director Peter Berg, coming off the financially and critically disastrous Battleship, adapts the New York Times best-seller called Lone Survivor which tells the true story of the ill-fated Operation Red Wings mission, a combined joint military operation involving Navy SEALs designed to take down a high-level al-Qaeda operative in Afghanistan. You’re not likely to find a more realistic and gut-wrenching depiction of what our fighting men and women endure in our global war on terror. It’s a powerful, intense, fast-paced war drama that has Berg’s fingerprints all over it. Never one to hold back, the director fills his film with piles of dead bodies,  a lot of gunfire, plenty of non-stop action, and enough F-bombs to populate a mob movie.

But bigger than the eye-opening realism and far more impactful than the lump-in-the-throat, flag-waving bravado we get from seeing our heroic fighting men risk their lives for our safety, is the effect of an impossible moral decision and the consequences of a single flukey happenstance that suddenly thrusts our heroes into the boundless gray area of combat.

The men are played by Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster, and Emile Hirsch as members of a 4-man squad of Navy SEALs covertly inserted into the rugged Afghan mountainside to monitor and possibly neutralize a notorious Taliban leader and his dangerous accomplices operating in the area. Out of respect, the men’s real names are Leading Petty Officer Marcus Luttrell, Lieutenant Michael Murphy, Second Class Petty Officer Matthew “Axe” Axelson, and Gunner’s First Mate Second Class Danny Dietz, respectively.

Things get off to a fairly good start as the men set up position over a village where their target was last spotted. But communication problems leave the squad cut-off from contact with back-up forces. On their own in hostile territory, the men hunker down for the evening. Out of sheer bad luck, their position is compromised by a small group of goat herders who may be in cahoots with the Taliban.

In an emotionally impactful and similarly well-acted scene, we watch the men as they debate the rules of engagement, eventually deciding they have just three options: kill their captives to prevent them from revealing the position to the Taliban fighters; detain them and leave them on the mountain, where they could possibly die from exposure to the elements; or set them free, and head to higher ground where communications might be better. Their ultimate decision soon turns into a nightmare scenario as a much larger force of better-equipped Taliban fighters eventually surrounds their position.

The fighting is ferocious and the battle scenes difficult to stomach. Watch if you can, but prepare yourself. Buckets of blood spill, heads explode, and bodies break as the SEALs, boxed into a corner, must evade enemy bullets and RPG fire by jumping off cliffs, their broken, bullet-riddled bodies crumpled in bloody heaps as the enemy relentlessly pursues.

It’s not giving anything away – the title does that – to say that not everyone survives, but Berg’s story takes a more pleasant turn as the last act depicts how some sympathetic villagers found one of the SEALs alive and sheltered him from the Taliban until American forces arrived. A closing title card describes an ancient unwritten code of ethics, called Pashtunwali, that states a person must be given protection against his or her enemies.

In turning over his story to Berg for big screen adaptation, real-life lone survivor Marcus Luttrell insisted the filmmaker get it right by honoring the men who died that day. Berg’s previous work on The Kingdom convinced the retired SEAL that he was the perfect man for the job. And Berg does get it mostly right.

Condensing a book into a two-hour movie is never an easy task and development of the characters seems to be the biggest casualty in Lone Survivor. Save for a few opening scenes that appear to be actual footage of Navy SEAL training and some briefly visited conversations about wedding advice, we know virtually nothing about these men. However, these oversights do little to minimize the film’s guttural impact and its moving tale of duty, brotherhood, human spirit, and the sacrifices one small band of warriors made… and how one survived to tell the tale.


[tab title="Film Details"]

Lone Survivor - Movie ReviewMPAA Rating: R for strong bloody war violence and pervasive language.
121 mins
: Peter Berg
: Peter Berg
Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch
: War | Military
Live to Tell the Story
Memorable Movie Quote: "I'm a hard-bodied, hairy-chested,rootin'- tootin' shootin', parachutin' demolition double-cap crimpin' frogman."
Universal Pictures
Official Site: http://www.lonesurvivorfilm.com/site
Release Date:
January 10, 2014
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
No details available

Synopsis: Based on the failed June 28, 2005 mission "Operation Red Wings". Four members of SEAL Team 10 were tasked with the mission to capture or kill notorious Taliban leader Ahmad Shahd. Marcus Luttrell was the only member of his team to survive.


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