Based on the book Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Red Wing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10, Lone Survivor is Peter Berg’s (Hancock) adaptation of this real-life account of a covert Navy SEAL operation in Afghanistan gone terribly wrong. On June 27, 2005, four members of Navy SEAL Team 10 were sent into the Afghanistan mountains to capture a Taliban leader on a mission called Operation Reg Wings, only one would survive. Lone Survivor tells that story.
Mark Wahlberg plays the titular “lone survivor” of the title, Marcus Luttrell, whom we first get a glimpse of in the film in terrible condition, being resuscitated by a medical team. It doesn’t look good for Marcus. The film then goes back three days to the Bagram military base in Afghanistan, the SEAL team are enjoying a brief respite before what they know will probably be a harrowing mission. Their commanding officer, Erik Kristensen (Eric Bana) details the operation that, little do they yet know, will result in terrible failure. It’s a complicated one with multiple parts that have to fall into place, but nothing these hardened soldiers aren’t trained to deal with. After being dropped off in the mountainous regions of Afghanistan where the team have to make a trek to the point where they must locate their target and wait it out until making contact with the base, things immediately begin to take a turn for the worst.
The first thing that goes wrong is the team’s communications officer Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch; The Air I Breathe; Taking Woodstock) can’t get a signal and they keep missing their windows for contact. Then, the big problem arises. A goatherder comes by as the team are hiding out in the trees for the evening until sundown and one of his sons steps on Marcus Lutrell’s foot. Their cover is blown. Now they have a decision to make – should they kill them, tie them up and leave them there to die, or let them go? The rules of engagement don’t allow them to kill the unarmed men, so the commanding officer of the operation, Michael Murphy (Taylor Klitsch) makes the call to let them go. The SEALs then move on to higher ground to try to make contact with their base, but it’s no good, they’re surrounded on a precipice, and an all-out gunfight ensues. It’s a deadly one that leaves them all torn to shreds, and all but Marcus Luttrell alive, but his life in the balance. His survival and escape from the Taliban forces will come from the least likely of places.
Probably not since Black Hawk Down has there been a contemporary war film as intense and gritty as this one. Just like the former, you can engage even more with these characters knowing that – Hollywood embellishments aside – these are real men who put their lives on the line. Berg’s direction is to the point, mostly focused, though he does tend to drift around just a bit, perhaps to give the audience a chance to exhale.
The portrayals of the SEALs is gritty and riveting, allowing Wahlberg to flex his acting muscles a bit – this a role well suited to him no doubt. It is quite possibly his best outing since Boogie Nights, and certainly his best since his also quite strong showing in The Fighter. It wouldn’t have been possible without an excellent round of supporting members, however, even Emile Hirsch turning in a powerhouse performance somewhat out of character.
The real-life SEALs portrayed in Lone Survivor were all decorated for their actions during Operation Red Wings. Second Class Petty Officer Matthew “Axe” Axelson and Gunner’s Mate Second Class Danny Dietz were awarded the Navy Cross, Lieutenant Michael Murphy would be awarded the U.S. the Medal of Honor, while Lieutenant Commander Erik Kristensen was awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. Leading Petty Officer Marcus Luttrell would also go on to receive the Navy Cross and Purple Heart.
Editor’s Note: For a different take on this film, read our theatrical review of Lone Survivor by Tim Baros.
Lone Survivor was shot in high definition using the Red Epic camera and it looks absolutely superb in this AVC 1080p transfer to Blu-ray from Universal. There is some opening training footage that is not up to the level of quality of the rest of the film, but that is tangential and purely artistic. The film, though at times gritty (which isn’t a bad thing given the sort of film) has excellent texture; finer details like the grime and dirt on faces and clothing is easily made out, as is detail in shadows.
Of equal merit is the awesome English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack provided by Universal. You’ll understand just how much this sound mix draws you in once you get to the pivotal gun battle and things start getting gloriously hectic. The bullets begin to fly, and they come from everywhere. Thankfully, they do not become fatiguing thanks to a high end that is smooth and laid back. As for the lows, well, when the RPGs and grenades blow, you feel them. And when the choppers are flying overhead, you feel those too. Dialogue is clean and full and, surprisingly, does not get buried under the mass of effects.
- iTunes Digital Copy & Digital HD UltraViolet
- Will of the Warrior (1.78:1; 1080p/24; 00:28:05) – An in-depth look at Marcus Lutrell, the real-life Navy SEAL who received the Navy Cross and Purple Heart for his actions in Operation Red Wings.
- Bringing the Story to Light (1.78:1; 1080p/24; 00:04:44) – Marcus Lutrell’s story of survival under extremely dire is an inspiration to all who hear it. Director, producer, and writer Peter Berg, producer Sarah Aubrey, and the four lead actors (Mark Wahlberg, Emile Hirsch, Taylor Kitsch, and Ben Foster) reveal their passion for the project and why it was so important to them to tell this story.
- Recreating the Firefight (1.78:1; 1080p/24; 00:10:27) – Reveals how Lone Survivor’s action-packed stunts were choreographed and shot. Includes interviews with director Peter Berg, actors Mark Wahlberg, Emile Hirsch, Taylor Kitsch, and Ben Foster and stunt coordinator and second unit director Kevin Scott.
- Learning the Basics (1.78:1; 1080p/24; 00:06:02) – Watch as Mark Wahlberg, Emile Hirsch, Taylor Kitsch, and Ben Foster go through rigorous SEAL training in weapons handling, communication/patrolling, and simulated attack drills. Along with Marcus Lutrell, Peter Berg enlisted the help of active navy SEALS to help the actors accurately portray the fallen soldiers of Operation Red Wings.
- The Fallen Heroes of Operation Red Wings (1.78:1; 1080p/24; 00:16:18):
- Michael Murphy
- Mathew Axelson
- Danny Dietz
- Tribute to the Fallen Heroes of Operation Red Wings
- The Pashtun Code of Life (1.78:1; 1080p/24; 00:04:07) – Learn why Marcus Lutrell’s rescuer, Mohhammad Gulab, risked his life and the life of everyone in his village to save Marcus.
The Definitive Word
If you pick one film to watch this Memorial Day weekend, then this is it – it also makes for a great Father’s Day gift. Lone Survivor is one of the most intense portrayals of war and heroism you will see on screen, with fine performances all around. The Blu-ray is a top notch reference on picture and sound.
Additional Screen Captures