ⓘ Lone Survivor

Lone Survivor

ⓘ Lone Survivor

Lone Survivor is a 2013 American biographical military action film based on the eponymous 2007 non-fiction book by Marcus Luttrell with Patrick Robinson. Set during the war in Afghanistan, it dramatizes the unsuccessful United States Navy SEALs counter-insurgent mission Operation Red Wings, during which a four-man SEAL reconnaissance and surveillance team was tasked to track down the Taliban leader Ahmad Shah. Written and directed by Peter Berg, the film stars Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster, and Eric Bana.

Upon first learning of the book in 2007, Berg arranged several meetings with Luttrell to discuss adapting the book to film. Universal Pictures acquired the film rights in August 2007, after bidding against other major studios. In re-enacting events, Berg drew much of his screenplay from Luttrells eyewitness accounts in the book, as well as autopsy and incident reports related to the mission. After directing Battleship 2012 for Universal, Berg resumed working on Lone Survivor. Principal photography began in October 2012 and concluded in November, after 42 days. Filming took place on location in New Mexico, using digital cinematography. Luttrell and several other Navy SEAL veterans acted as technical advisors, while multiple branches of the United States Armed Forces aided the production. Two companies, Industrial Light & Magic and Image Engine, created the visual effects.

Lone Survivor opened in limited release in the United States on December 25, 2013, before opening across North America on January 10, 2014. It received generally positive reviews; some critics praised Bergs direction, as well as the acting, story, visuals and battle sequences, while others derided the film for focusing more on its action scenes than on characterization. It grossed over $154 million, of which $125 million was from North America. It was chosen by National Board of Review as one of the top ten films of 2013, and received two Oscar nominations for Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing.


1. Plot

In 2005, Afghanistan, Taliban leader Ahmad Shah is responsible for killing over twenty United States Marines, as well as villagers and refugees who were aiding American forces. In response to these killings, a United States Navy SEALs unit is ordered to execute a counter-insurgent mission to capture Shah. As part of the mission, a four-man SEAL reconnaissance and surveillance team is tasked with locating Shah. The four SEALs include team leader Michael Murphy; Marksmen Marcus Luttrell and Matthew Axelson and communications specialist Danny Dietz.

The team is inserted into the Hindu Kush region of Afghanistan, where they make a trek through the mountains where they begin to encounter communications problems. Arriving at their designated location, the SEALs are accidentally discovered by local goat herders, whom the SEALs detain. Knowing that if they release them, the herders will likely alert the Taliban to their presence, the team is split about whether to kill the herders or not. After a brief debate, the team chooses to release them and abort the mission, but before they can escape, they are attacked by Taliban forces. Although the SEALs kill several Taliban gunmen, they are heavily outnumbered and at a disadvantage, and the men take on various wounds during the firefight, worsened when they jump off the edge of a ridge and into a large ravine.

Despite their injuries, the SEALs make a defensive retreat through the steep woods. Dietz begins to lose consciousness and shouts questions to Luttrell, unwittingly revealing the teams position. Murphy and Axelson jump off another ridge to lead the escape while Luttrell tries to carry Dietz down the mountain, but Dietz is shot again; the impact forces Luttrell to lose his grip and fall off the cliff. A dying Dietz remains at the top of the cliff and is killed. Murphy attempts to climb back up the cliff to get a phone signal in order to call for support via satellite phone with Axelson and Luttrell providing cover fire. When he finally reaches higher ground, Murphy is able to alert his unit of his teams predicament and request assistance before he is killed.

In response to Murphys distress call, a quick reaction force made up of fellow SEALs boards Chinook helicopters and heads toward the location without gunship escort. When they arrive, the Taliban shoot down one of the helicopters, killing all eight Navy SEALs and eight Special Operations aviators aboard, including Commander Kristensen, while the second helicopter is forced back. Luttrell and Axelson are left to fend for themselves again. Axelson attempts to find cover but is killed when he leaves his hiding spot to attack several approaching insurgents. When Luttrell is discovered by the Taliban, one of the insurgents fires a rocket-propelled grenade, and its impact throws him to the bottom of a rock crevice where he is able to hide from the Taliban and eventually escape.

Luttrell stumbles upon a small body of water where a local Pashtun villager, Mohammad Gulab, discovers him. Gulab takes Luttrell into his care, returning to his village, where he attempts to hide Luttrell in his home. Gulab then sends a mountain man to the nearest American base to alert them to Luttrells location. Taliban fighters arrive at the village to take Luttrell, but Gulab and the villagers intervene, threatening to kill the fighters if they harm Luttrell. The fighters leave, but later return to punish the villagers for protecting Luttrell. Gulab and his villagers are initially able to fend off the attackers but are nearly overrun and Luttrell is badly wounded before American forces arrive and defeat the advancing Taliban. After thanking the villagers who had saved him, Luttrell is evacuated. He almost succumbs to his injuries but is revived in time.

Images of the real Luttrell, Gulab and the fallen service members killed during the mission are shown during a four-minute montage, and an epilogue reveals that the Pashtun villagers agreed to help Luttrell as part of a traditional code of honor known as the Pashtunwali.


2. Cast

  • Mark Wahlberg as Marcus Luttrell
The hospital corpsman and sniper of a four-man reconnaissance and surveillance team, SEAL Team 10. Wahlberg was the first actor to sign on as a star of the film during its early stages of development. He agreed to portray Luttrell after reading Peter Bergs script. Wahlberg chose not to read Luttrells book Lone Survivor during production to avoid arguments with Berg over events and details that were left out in the book. "The problem when adapting a piece of material like that is that you always feel like something is missing", he explained. "I wanted to come at it from this perspective." Of Wahlbergs portrayal, Luttrell stated, "Wahlberg is a consummate professional, and hes a great actor. It was a little strange watching somebody trying to play me, but we talked about it and I knew it would turn out great. I was more worried about the other guys because theyre not around to speak for themselves." Wahlberg has since cited Lone Survivor as his favorite film role as an actor and producer: "This is the best working experience Ive ever had, under the toughest conditions. I remember early on as an actor, you worked a long, hard day, but you did something you felt was special, and that car ride home you couldnt stop thinking about it. I had that feeling every day on this movie."
  • Taylor Kitsch as Michael P. "Murph" Murphy
A lieutenant who serves as the team leader and spotter of SEAL Team 10. Lone Survivor is Kitschs second feature film collaboration with Berg after Battleship 2012. Kitsch said, "Murphs actions speak louder than anything hes ever said, and they should. I think he was that type of leader who just loved his guys, and getting the nod to play this guy was something special." Prior to production of the film, Kitsch prepared for the role by performing high-intensity workouts with body armor and long runs with a 40-lb weighted vest.
  • Emile Hirsch as Danny Dietz
SEAL Team 10s communications specialist and spotter. Hirsch was approached by Berg in 2009, and physically prepared for the role by attending a 90-minute weight program for nearly four months. "I wanted a challenge, so I started to train and work out on my own", he said. "I genuinely didnt know what was going to happen. Months went by and it was to the point where I was passing on other movies, but I didnt have this job. I was willing to do anything. I ended up training six days a week, four to five hours a day."
  • Ben Foster as Matthew "Axe" Axelson
SEAL Team 10s sniper. Wahlberg recommended Foster to Berg, as they had previously collaborated on Contraband 2012. Prior to filming, Foster met with the fallen servicemans family and friends to understand the person he would be portraying. "It was such a rich opportunity to listen to the Axelsons talk about their son. Their generosity and inclusiveness with me was so touching and open. They love to talk about their boy because they love him; so we, in turn, love him. We cant bring him back, but what we can do is aim, every day, to do the best that we can to honor him."
  • Eric Bana as Erik S. Kristensen
SEAL Team 10s quick-reaction force QRF lieutenant commander. Bana had read the book Lone Survivor prior to production, and was willing to appear in the film, regardless of which role was offered to him. Upon being cast as Kristensen, Bana researched the fallen serviceman and his family. On joining the production of Lone Survivor, Bana stated, "There are two factors that make this story special, and they are the reasons why I jumped on board. One is the story itself, and two is who chooses to direct a project like this. I knew how involved would be and that he would know how to portray SEAL teammates. That was what I wanted to be a part of. The greatest way to honor these guys is to make a great film and have it stand the test of time." Bana did not physically prepare for the role. "My responsibility was really to understand the role of the mission commander and the relevant information with respect with the chain of command and what it means to go in the QRF and the processes involved", he explained. "It was far more important to be the person that was responsible for that part of the story and understand that completely. Theres no purpose in me going out and firing an M4 in this case."

Ali Suliman, who previously collaborated with Berg on the 2007 film The Kingdom, plays Mohammad Gulab, an Afghan villager; Alexander Ludwig plays Navy SEAL Machinists Mate Shane Patton. Marcus Luttrell appears in the film in an uncredited role. He first appears as a SEAL teammate who lightheartedly hazes Patton, then during a briefing scene where he is seen shaking his head when the Rules of Engagement are being explained, and later as one of the servicemen who perishes when a CH-47 Chinook is shot down. Luttrell said of the latter scene, "I was on the other side of the mountain when those guys came to help me, so getting to die on the helicopter in the movie was a very powerful moment for me."

The cast is rounded out by Yousuf Azami as Ahmad Shah, a Taliban leader; Sammy Sheik as Taraq, a field commander of the Taliban group; Rich Ting as SO2 James Suh; Dan Bilzerian as Senior Chief Special Operator SOCS Daniel Healy; Jerry Ferrara as United States Marine Corps Sgt Hasslert; Scott Elrod as Peter Musselman; Rohan Chand as Gulabs son; and Corey Large as US Navy SEAL Captain Kenney. Zarin Mohammad Rahimi, who acted as a technical advisor during production, appears as an elderly shepherd who discovers the four-man SEAL team during the mission; Nicholas Patel and Daniel Arroyo play the goat herders who assist the shepherd.


3.1. Production Development

Following publication of Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinsons nonfiction book Lone Survivor 2007, producer Barry Spikings met Luttrells attorney Alan Schwartz, who was interested in making a film adaptation. Schwartz suggested that Spikings son-in-law Akiva Goldsman write the screenplay. Goldsman did not believe he was the right screenwriter for the project, and suggested that Peter Berg write and direct the film. Spikings and Goldsman passed the book on to Bergs producing partner Sarah Aubrey. Berg first learned of the book while filming Hancock, and after he and Aubrey read it, they arranged several meetings with Luttrell to discuss a film adaptation. Luttrell also viewed a rough cut of Bergs then-upcoming film The Kingdom 2007, and was impressed by his direction. did the last reel; the band Explosions in the Sky did pretty much did everything else. They have an emotional, tender quality to their music, even when it gets aggressive. I didnt want the score to be overly aggressive, I wanted it to be haunting and emotional. Steve Jablonsky came in at the end to do something more traditional, but when Steve does "traditional", its not the usual strings. He created a wonderful sound at the very end." The motion picture soundtrack album was released on December 17, 2013 by record label Metropolis Movie Music.


4. Historical accuracy

While based on true events, a number of historical inaccuracies in the film have been noted.

The number of Taliban fighters involved in the ambush has been widely disputed. In Marcus Luttrells original after-action report, he stated that he and his teammates were attacked by 20–35 insurgents, while his book places the number at over 200. The screenplay describes "A solid line of at least fifty Taliban in firing positions on top of the hill above them." The summary of action for Lt. Murphys posthumous Medal of Honor describes the enemy force as numbering "more than 50," while the official citation puts the number at "between 30 and 40 enemy fighters." In his book, Victory Point: Operations Red Wings and Whalers – the Marine Corps Battle for Freedom in Afghanistan, military journalist Ed Darack cites a military intelligence report stating the strength of the Taliban force to be 8–10. The military intelligence estimate cited by Darack is based on research sourced from intelligence reports, including aerial and eyewitness studies of the battlefield after the fact, including the men sent in to rescue Luttrell, as well as reports from Afghan intelligence.

The number of casualties incurred by the Taliban fighters has also been disputed. Naval Special Warfare Command has estimated that Luttrell and his teammates killed around thirty-five insurgents during the battle. Andrew MacMannis, a former Marine Colonel who was involved in planning Operation Red Wings and assisted in recovering bodies after the mission, has stated that there were no known enemy casualties. Mohammad Gulab, the Afghan villager who rescued Luttrell, agrees with MacMannis, as does another Marine who was involved with the mission, Patrick Kinser, who has said, "Ive been at the location where." Furthermore, Gulab has claimed that he found Luttrell with eleven magazines of ammunition – the full amount that Luttrell had brought on the mission.

In the film, the four-man SEAL reconnaissance team is discovered by three goat herders - an elderly man and two teenage boys. In fact, Luttrell wrote in his book that only one of the goat herders was a teenage boy, not two. Luttrells book and the film both suggest that the SEALs decision to release the goat herders led to their subsequent ambush - yet according to Gulab, people throughout the area heard the SEALs being dropped off by helicopter, and the Taliban proceeded to track the SEALs footprints. Other villagers recounted to Gulab that the Taliban found the SEALs while the debate over the goat herders was taking place and that the Taliban then waited for a more opportune time to attack.

The film shows Luttrell Wahlberg being able to walk after the Talibans ambush on the four-man SEAL team. In reality, Luttrell explained that his legs were numb immediately after the ambush, and when feeling did return to them, the pain from the shrapnel in his legs made it too painful to walk; he had to crawl seven miles looking for water and sanctuary. Luttrell also said that he did not witness the MH-47 Chinook helicopter being shot down, as seen in the film. At the end of the film, the Pashtun villagers fight off a Taliban attack in a firefight that never actually happened. In reality, the Taliban fighters were outnumbered by the villagers and had no intentions of attacking the village. They did, however, enter the room where Luttrell was being kept and physically beat him, before being pressured to leave by the village elder. Luttrell also did not go into cardiac arrest after he was rescued, nor was he near death, as seen in the film.

In his book, Luttrell erroneously claims that Ahmad Shah was "one of Osama bin Ladens closest associates". The films production notes add to this mistake, calling Shah "a high-level al Qaeda operative". Shah was not actually a member of al Qaeda, nor did he know bin Laden. Rather, Shah was a local militia leader with ties to the Taliban. In the film, Shah is said to have killed twenty Marines in the week before Operation Red Wings. Although Shah did in fact participate in multiple attacks against U.S. forces prior to the events of Lone Survivor, there is no evidence to suggest that he had been responsible for the deaths of any American service members. Only five Marines had died in combat in the entire war up to that point, and only two U.S. service-members were killed in Kunar Province in the months leading up to Operation Red Wings.


5.1. Release Strategy

Berg first screened Lone Survivor to a number of professional American football teams to generate a strong word of mouth for the film. He expressed that the screenings were not a marketing ploy, explaining that it was "just a cool thing to do." Lone Survivor was screened to the Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Carolina Panthers, and Cleveland Browns as well as the University of Alabama Crimson Tide football team. The film received a generally positive response from several football players who took to social media to praise the film. A gala premiere screening of Lone Survivor was held during the AFI Film Festival at the TCL Chinese Theatre on November 12, 2013. Lone Survivor held its red carpet premiere on December 3, 2013 at the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York City, where the film received a standing ovation. The premiere also doubled as a tribute to the fallen servicemen of Operation Red Wings; in addition to several cast and crew members, Marcus Luttrell and family members of the deceased were in attendance. Mohammad Gulab, the Afghan villager who helped rescue Luttrell, also attended the premiere, marking his first time in New York City and in a movie theatre.

In what the film industry calls a "platform release", Lone Survivor was released in a small number of theaters before opening wide in other countries; it opened in New York and Los Angeles on December 25, 2013 before being released across North America on January 10, 2014. Entertainment One Films distributed the film in Canadian markets. Buena Vista International released it in the Philippines on January 8, 2014.


5.2. Release Box office

Lone Survivor s limited release in the United States saw it take $153.839 - an average of $45.436 per theater - in its first five days. The film grossed an additional $326.685 on the following weekend. Pre-release tracking estimated that Lone Survivor would gross between $17 and $28 million during its opening weekend of wide release. Released to a total of 2.875 theaters in the United States and Canada, The film grossed $14.403.750 on its opening day, and by the end of its opening weekend it had grossed $38.231.471, securing the number-one position at the North American box office. Lone Survivor s opening-weekend gross made it the second-largest debut for any film released widely in January, after Cloverfield 2008, which opened with $40.1 million. It had also become the highest-grossing film among recent "post-9/11 war films", surpassing Brothers 2009, which ended its North American theatrical run with over $28.5 million.

The film saw a significant drop in attendance during its second weekend of wide release; it had earned $6.665.470, which was a 135.4% increase from its opening Friday. However, by the end of its second weekend, the film earned $25.929.570, a 41.7% overall decrease from the previous weekend. As a result, Lone Survivor went from first to second place behind the action-comedy film Ride Along. The film remained in second place during its third weekend, grossing an additional $12.900.960, which was a 41.5% decrease from its second weekend. It grossed an additional $7.096.330 during its fourth weekend, moving to fifth place in the top 10 rankings. Lone Survivor remained in fifth place during its fifth weekend, grossing an additional $5.565.860, which was a 21.6% decrease from the previous weekend. By its sixth weekend, the film went from fifth place to ninth, earning $4.086.435. By its seventh weekend, Lone Survivor had dropped out of the top ten, earning an additional $1.978.380. Lone Survivor completed its theatrical run in North America on April 10, 2014 after 107 days 15.3 weeks of release.

Lone Survivor grossed $125.095.601 in the United States and Canada; coupled with its international take of $29.707.311, the film accumulated $154.802.912 in worldwide box office totals. Outside of North America, the films biggest markets were in Australia, the United Kingdom, Spain, Japan, France, South Korea, and Germany; the film grossed approximately $3.5 million in Australia, $3.4 million in the United Kingdom, $2.5 million in Spain, $2.2 million in Japan, $1.5 million in France, $1.2 million in South Korea, and $1 million in Germany. In North America, Lone Survivor is the 24th-highest-grossing film of 2013, and the sixth-highest-grossing R-rated film of that year.


5.3. Release Home media

Lone Survivor was released on Blu-ray and DVD on June 3, 2014 by Universal Pictures Home Entertainment in the United States, and by Entertainment One in Canada. On August 9, 2016, it had a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release in the United States and in the UK on September 26, 2016. In the United Kingdom, the film was released on both home video formats on June 9, 2014.


6.1. Reception Critical response

Lone Survivor received "largely positive reviews" from film critics, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The Los Angeles Times reported the critics consensus was that "the film succeeds in bringing the mission to life, although it avoids probing the deeper issues at hand." Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes sampled 214 reviews, and gave the film an approval rating of 76%, with an average score of 6.6/10. The websites critical consensus reads, "A true account of military courage and survival, Lone Survivor wields enough visceral power to mitigate its heavy-handed jingoism." Another review aggregator, Metacritic, assigned the film a weighted average score of 60 out of 100, based on 44 reviews from mainstream critics, indicating to be "mixed or average reviews". CinemaScore polls conducted during Lone Survivor s opening weekend of wide release reported that male and female audiences gave the film a rare "A+" on an A+ to F scale, with exit polls showing that 57% of the audience was male, while 57% was at least 30 years of age or older.

Justin Chang, writing for Variety magazine, gave the film a positive review and called it "the most grueling and sustained American combat picture since Black Hawk Down, as well as a prime example of how impressive physical filmmaking can overcome even fundamental deficiencies in script and characterization." Alonso Duralde, writing for The Wrap, stated, "The film never makes a grand statement about whether or not the war in Afghanistan is, per se, a mistake, but it does portray war itself as a disgusting folly. Berg sets up the cathartic moments were used to in movies like this, but then he pulls out the rug, reminding us that the cavalry doesnt always miraculously show up in time to save the day." Todd McCarthy, writing for The Hollywood Reporter, described the film as being "rugged, skilled, relentless, determined, narrow-minded and focused, everything that a soldier must be when his life is on the line," while Scott Bowles of USA Today called Lone Survivor "brutal, unrelenting and ultimately moving." Leonard Maltin described the film as "visceral", while praising Berg, the main actors, and the stunt performers for successfully reenacting the events of Operation Red Wings. Maltin concluded that the film "is a tough movie but a rewarding one. Its humbling to watch this dramatization of the sacrifices these men make, without hesitation. Peter Berg was determined to do justice to them, and he has succeeded." Betsy Sharkey, writing for The Los Angeles Times, praised the overall look of the film: "The production and costume designers have paid a great deal of attention to the details, from the uniforms and tribal robes, to the bullet wounds and blood. It certainly adds to the films verisimilitude."

Several reviewers criticized Lone Survivor for focusing more on its action scenes than on characterization. In his review for The Star-Ledger, Stephen Whitty wrote, "This is the sort of bare-bones story that well served plenty of World War II movies once, and it would work here, if Berg had the sense to develop these men as characters, first. But we dont really get to know any of them, or what they might bring personally to this life-or-death emergency." Rafer Guzman of Newsday wrote, "The movie seems more concerned with military-style action than with telling us who these fallen heroes really were."

One of the films strongest detractors was Time Out magazines Keith Uhlich, who called the film "war porn of the highest order". Geoff Pevere wrote in his review for The Globe and Mail, "The sensation of being pinned down and shot apart is so harrowingly conveyed. that one almost forgives the movies failure to be quite as persuasive in almost every other respect." While praising the film for its visuals and sound effects, as well as Bergs atmospheric direction, Kyle Smith of the New York Post gave Lone Survivor a mixed review. Smith concluded his review by describing it as "a movie about an irrelevant skirmish that ended in near-total catastrophe, during a war we are not winning." Film critic Steven Boone, writing for Roger Eberts website, compared the films violence to that of Mel Gibsons 2004 film The Passion of the Christ: "Whats in between amounts to The Passion of the Christ for U.S. servicemen: a bloody historic episode recounted mainly in images of hardy young men being ripped apart, at screeching volume. Though Bergs source material isnt the New Testament, he often handles Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrells account. with the thunderous reverence Mel Gibson brought to Christs crucifixion and resurrection."


6.2. Reception Accolades

Lone Survivor received various awards and nominations, in categories ranging from recognition of the film itself to its screenplay, direction, stunts, and sound editing, to the performance of its lead actor, Mark Wahlberg. Lone Survivor received two Academy Award nominations for Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing, although the film failed to win either; at the 86th Academy Awards, the film lost in both categories to Gravity. In addition to the following list of awards and nominations, the film was named one of the ten best films of 2013 by the Las Vegas Film Critics Society, who also ranked it as the Best Action Film of 2013.

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