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Courage Under Fire

by Laura Leon on January 16, 2014

Lone Survivor
Directed by Peter Berg


With a title like Lone Survivor, it’s pretty apparent what the outcome will be, but even for those familiar with the remarkable story of Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, the unfolding that leads to that conclusion proves vastly compelling and immeasurably gripping. It doesn’t matter what side of the political fence you’re on, or what your opinion is of our presence in Afghanistan. What does matter is the nature of commitment and sacrifice so few are willing to take on, and how very much we care for the fate of those caught in a disastrous situation.

Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg) and three others—Mike Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) and Matt Axelson (Ben Foster)—are dropped deep in the Afghan mountains to provide reconnaissance on a Bin Laden associate. Things go drastically wrong after the four are discovered by a trio of goat herders; before you can mutter SNAFU, the Taliban are hot on the trail of the Americans and a massive firefight ensues. This is a battle film, but it’s shaped by determination and skill.

Peter Berg, who wrote and directed, masterfully films the situations in a way that never lets us lose sight of the human element, not to mention the geographic one. Indeed, the rugged terrain (actually, New Mexico) is just as much a character as the Navy SEALS, giving us new appreciation for what anybody—be they native Afghans or American military—must encounter just to survive there. The movie sets up nicely the relationships between the men in such a way that we get a rich feel for the camaraderie and devotion that is the bedrock of elite teams. Wahlberg and his co-stars are outstanding, each giving his character distinct personality traits that aren’t often seen in war movies in which the characters are “the black guy,” “the tough New Yorker,” etc. I heard Berg say in an interview that Dietz’s father, reading to the filmmaker a list of his late son’s terrible wounds, implored him to show the world how hard his son, and the others, fought to live. If anything, Lone Survivor is a story that may be short on hope but is long on survival and courage, and it’s an utterly shattering, must-see story.