Based on a 2007 memoir by former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, Lone Survivor details the ill-fated Operation Red Wings. In that 2005 mission, Luttrell and three of his fellow SEALs were dispatched to assassinate a Taliban leader, Ahmad Shah, near Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush Mountains. After getting close to their target, the team was ambushed by enemy forces. Things went from bad to deadly — then very deadly when a contingent of SEALs attempted rescue on a chopper.
It is not revealing any more than the movie title does in noting that Luttrell, portrayed by Mark Wahlberg (Pain & Gain), lived to tell the tale.
At its best, Lone Survivor is a lean, solidly crafted testament to men at work. While director Peter Berg (Battleship) is perfunctory in establishing the principal characters — Luttrell, Lt. Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch, Savages), Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch, Prince Avalanche) and Matt “Axe” Axelson (Ben Foster, Kill Your Darlings) — their professionalism, camaraderie and banter feel authentic.
Berg pumps up the heroics with a bit of mythologizing. The creator of The Kingdom and TV’s Friday Night Lights has a penchant for blending documentary-like camerawork with slow motion, quick edits and a stirring music score. The grim truth of Lone Survivor is that it occasionally feels compromised by such theatrics and macho one-liners more suited for the next Die Hard sequel. Still, most of Berg’s direction is crisply efficient, and his action sequences are staged with a clarity uncommon in a lot of Hollywood shoot-’em-ups.
Comparisons to Black Hawk Dawn, Ridley Scott’s 2001 telling of a botched U.S. military mission in Somalia, are inevitable but not entirely fair. Scott’s film was brutal and relentless. By contrast, Lone Survivor means to memorialize as much as it does to chronicle what happened on that Afghanistan mountain.
That can result in a messy mission, but as the film makes all too clear, sometimes you just have to forge ahead and do the job.