'Lone Survivor' Review: Powerful, Unrelenting Tribute to Fallen SEALs
Among the highest honors I've been fortunate to experience as producer and host of Sarah Palin Radio, besides being named the "World's Worst Person" by Keith Olbermann, was meeting several Navy SEALs, including Navy Cross recipient Marcus Luttrell.
He has been a guest on Sarah Palin Radio twice, and I had the privilege of meeting him after he was honored by Sarah Palin at Glenn Beck's Restoring Honor rally in Washington, D.C. Aug. 28, 2010.
In my first interview with Luttrell in 2009, he announced that his best-selling book, Lone Survivor, was going to be made into a feature film. I've been waiting four years for this film to be released, and it was well worth the wait.
Lone Survivor is perhaps the most powerful war movie since Saving Private Ryan and worthy of a few Academy Award nominations.
True to Luttrell's harrowing account, the movie reenacts in grueling detail, the worst tragedy ever suffered in Navy SEAL history.
On June 28, 2005, 19 special ops members died as part of Operation Red Wings; three of the four-man SEAL team were killed on the ground during combat, sometimes hand-to-hand. Hours later, as part of the rescue mission, eight SEALs and eight Army Night Stalkers were killed when their helicopter was shot down.
The film begins like the book describing what it's like to become a Navy SE, Air and Land member better known as a Navy SEAL. It's not a job for just anyone as the opening credits roll into a series of hardcore, training exercises excruciatingly demonstrate. Only the elite of the elite can qualify as a Navy SEAL.
The real Marcus Luttrell appears briefly in a cameo, a nice touch. There is also a visual reference to Marc Lee, the first Navy SEAL to die in Iraq. It was a privilege to meet Lee's mother, Debbie Lee and interview her on Sarah Palin Radio a few years ago. She founded America's Mighty Warriors, a foundation honoring fallen troops. Fittingly, Luttrell is on the board of directors and the Veteran Ambassador.
There are several shots in the sequence of Luttrell, played convincingly by Mark Wahlberg, wearing a Delta Tau Delta t-shirt. Sure enough, the real Luttrell belonged to the Delta Tau Delta fraternity, along with his twin brother Morgan, also a Navy SEAL, while attending Sam Houston State College in Texas.
As an aside, another mighty warrior, conservative icon Andrew Breitbart (may he rest in peace), was a Delta Tau Delta as well.
As part of the four-man special ops team, Luttrell was the hospital corpsman, who, at one point, ordered his comrades to stuff dirt into their wounds to stop the bleeding. The other SEALs included team leader Lt. Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, gunner's mate Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) and sonar technician Matthew Axelson (Ben Foster).
They quietly and efficiently move along the designated communication points Budweiser, Corona, Heineken and finally Schlitz Malt Liquor deep behind enemy lines in Afghanistan. Their often humorous banter keeps the suspense at bay while they move undercover on a reconnaissance mission tracking a terrorist, who had killed 20 Marines the week before.
Suddenly at day break, they are compromised by a group of goat herders. The SEALs vote to release the old man and two young kids after a scrutinizing debate about what to do with them. The goat herders immediately flee to the village where the Taliban are hiding. Before the SEALs can retreat, they are ambushed and a fierce firefight erupts putting the SEALs grossly outnumbered by 140 to four. Overwhelmed by a three-sided attack, the SEALs literally fall off the 10,000-foot mountain continuing to fight until the very end, when only Luttrell remained as the lone survivor, hence the title of the book and movie.
The firefight scene is an intense blood-and-guts battle against the odds with brutal images and sounds of broken bones and ripping skin being pierced by both bullets and jagged rock. The slow motion of men falling or actually jumping off cliffs and then sped up to real-time action as bodies slam into trees and rocks is jolting.
There is no where to go but down as the SEALs become trapped on all sides while bullets and rocket-propelled grenades rain down on them from the Taliban, who are at a more advantageous position higher up the mountain.
The pace is unrelenting until you realize that the actual firefight itself was much longer than the 40-minute scene. In fact, it was longer than the two-hour movie.
The scene is so gripping, in large part due to the acting, of course, but also the editing and sound work that is right on point. Bravo to the stuntmen, who did a Herculean job sliding and flying off the mountain.
Without giving away what happened to Luttrell before he was rescued by U.S. troops, it will surprise many to see who comes to his rescue and how he responds in kind.
Perhaps the most moving part of the movie is the end when the pictures of the real heroes are shown including the main character "Texas Frog" Marcus Luttrell. It was a fitting tribute to those who lived and died the Navy SEALs creed: "Never out of the fight."