‘Lone Survivor’ a harrowing reminder that the war continues

The title tells you how things end, but “Lone Survivor” keeps you thoroughly involved until the end and that’s a credit not only to star Mark Wahlberg, but to the director/writer Peter Berg.

For those of us who watched the CBS medical drama “Chicago Hope,” Berg played Dr. Billy Kronk. More recently, he directed and co-wrote a 2004 sports drama called “Friday Night Lights” that he helped develop into a TV series (2006-2011).  His last effort, “Battleship” received mixed reviews in 2012.

Berg is back to doing what he does best with “Lone Survivor,” sensitive portrayals of men in a predominately male world. This film was shot in 42 days in New Mexico with the main actors receiving three weeks of military training before shooting began.

This movie isn’t about character as in subtle nuancing of individuals, but the kind of character that a tight-knit squad requires to be cool and quick-thinking under fire. Based on Marcus Luttrell’s eponymous book (full title “Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Red Wings and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10”) , “Lone Survivor” is about the ill-fated SEAL Team 10’s mission. Called Operation Red Wings, four men were dropped in  a remote region in the Pech District of the Kunar Province in Afghanistan on 28 June 2005.

The name came from a now abandoned practice of naming operations after sports teams, in this case the Detroit Red Wings. Operation Red Wings mission is to locate and kill a noted Taliban leader.

The four men team were Lt. Michael P. Murphy (Taylor Kitsch) of New York, SO2 Matthew Axelson (Ben Foster) of California, Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) of Colorado and Luttrell (Wahlberg). Almost immediately things go wrong. They are spotted by local goatherders–an adolescent boy, a teenage boy and an old, gray-haired man. The men argue, but finally decide the must release the men and abort their mission. The teen runs and we supposed informs the Taliban. There’s a rescue attempt which also ends horribly, resulting in more deaths.

The team is attacked and all of them, are injured. Only Luttrell is left alive, but unconscious. One might argue the wisdom of releasing the goatherders or even neglecting to teach the soldiers the language of the area, but according to the movie Luttrell was saved by a local Afghan village due to a centuries old custom of hospitality. The man who made that choice, Muhammad Gulab (Ali Suliman), did so at the risk of his own life, something to consider when one’s tempted to condemn Afghan tribes and/or Muslims. Gulab chose to uphold Pashtunwali, a kind of hospitality that requires one to protect a guest against his enemies at all costs and the costs have included members of Gulab’s family, his house and his car.

In five days, after losing his SEAL brothers, Luttrell found another brother, Gulab. You can see the CBS News video here. It’s good to remember that we are still at war in Afghanistan. This account, though, should be watched with the documentary “My Afghanistan: Life in the Forbidden Zone.

While “My Afghanistan” includes families and children, “Lone Survivor” is rated R for strong language and violence.  This movie is not only inspired by a true story, it seems to have avoided the Hollywood trap. It hasn’t gone Hollywood by glamorizing the war or the men who fight it. This is a tough-minded movie telling the tale of men who were lost from the American survivor’s perspective.

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