Live to Tell the Story

January is seen as the dumping ground for movies. Statistically, less people go to the movies in January, so if a studio has a crappy film on their hands, they sometimes give it a quiet January release in the hope that its crappiness will go relatively unnoticed.

Peter Berg’s “Lone Survivor” may be the film to buck that trend.


The film tells the story of Operation Red Wings, an ill-fated military operation in Afghanistan which took place back in 2005. A team of four Navy SEALs was ambushed and three were killed, and sixteen more American soldiers were killed when one of the helicopters sent to rescue the SEALs was shot down by a rocket launcher.

This is one of the most relentlessly intense films I’ve seen in quite some time. The film takes its time getting to the main battle sequence, but once it starts, hang on tight. The combat scenes in this film are easily as intense as those in Saving Private Ryan or Black Hawk Down.

Needless to say, it’s not an easy film to watch. This movie is not for the squeamish. Director Peter Berg pulls no punches in depicting the sheer ferocity of combat, and the pain of the wounds suffered by the SEALs. They’re all shot multiple times, fingers are blown off, shrapnel wounds are suffered, and in a couple of scenes, they fall off cliffs.

Oh man, do they fall off cliffs.

The terrain the SEALs were dealing with was rocky and unforgiving, and in their attempts to escape from their attackers (in the movie anyway, I don’t know if this bit happened in real life), they jump off a couple of very steep, rocky cliffs. Berg films these scenes in a manner that is very up-close and personal, making you feel every cut, scrape, and broken bone.

There was a similar scene in The Rundown, a movie Berg made in 2003 starring Dwayne “I-was-still-credited-as-The-Rock-in-this-movie” Johnson, where a couple of characters take a tumble down a very steep cliff. But that movie was at least partly intended as a comedy, which is absolutely not the case with Lone Survivor.

It’s a brutal, bloody, relentless movie. I noticed that the makeup effects were done by Gregory Nicotero and Howard Berger, movie and TV veterans known for their gruesome work on the zombies on AMC’s The Walking Dead, which should give you a pretty good idea of how horrific the wounds suffered by the SEALs were.

The movie has been praised for its realism, and it puts you about as close to the reality of combat as film is able to do. In this movie, gunfire and explosions are LOUD, and some of the dialogue shouted during the firefights is sometimes hard to understand, but I did not think that was to the film’s detriment. If anything, it heightened the realism, since it would probably be pretty hard to hear what the guy next to you was saying if you had a couple dozen guys shooting automatic weapons and rocket launchers at you.

These are the movie SEALs…


And these are some of the real SEALs…


Pretty similar, right?

The titular lone survivor was Marcus Luttrell (who I’m pretty sure is on the far right in the picture of the real SEALs above), who wrote a best-selling book about his experiences and was one of the technical advisors for the film.


Luttrell is played in the movie by Mark Wahlberg, an actor I like more and more these days. He can be a seriously good actor given the right material, which he has in spades with Lone Survivor.

The acting in the movie was really good across the board, and the actors who played the other three members of Luttrell’s squad (Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster, and Emile Hirsch) were excellent.

Berg’s film has drawn some criticism for focusing more on the battle scenes than the characterization of the four main SEALs, and I even read one review which stated that the movie came dangerously close to glorifying warfare. I respectfully disagree. I’ll reiterate what I said about Zero Dark Thirty, which is that depicting these events onscreen is not the same as glorifying them. The message I took from this film wasn’t “Hey, look how great war is,” but “Hey, look how much war sucks.”

Seriously. War is dirty, bloody, painful, and horrible, and that’s just how the movie portrays it.

If you can listen to the raspy, gurgling wheeze one of the SEALs makes as he tries to breathe through multiple grievous injuries and think that the film portrays this sort of thing as cool, then you and I are destined to never agree on anything.

Lone Survivor is a harrowing film. I won’t be seeing it again in theaters, but I’ll pick up the Blu-Ray. It’s a well-made, well-acted, and ultimately quite moving portrait of the selflessness and sacrifice of those who serve.


4 comments on “Live to Tell the Story

  1. Tom McCabe says:

    Nice job Colin.

    Love, Your Uncle

  2. susan diamond says:

    I loved the book and can’t wait to see the book, especially now that I have read your review. Well said!

  3. Thanks so much for the comments, I’m glad you liked the post. It’s not always an easy movie to watch, but I thought the experience was worthwhile. Something I forgot to mention in the post (and thank you both for helping me think of this) is that with a movie like this one, it needs to feel like the effort you put into watching it was worthwhile. What’s the point of watching a movie full of suffering and death if it doesn’t feel like it meant anything by the end? Fortunately, this movie didn’t have that problem, it was really worth the watch.

    Thanks again for your support!


  4. Robin Maass says:

    Good work, Colin!

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