‘Lone Survivor’ Review

Published 1 year ago by , Updated October 17th, 2014 at 9:19 pm,

Lone Survivor Movie Cast Lone Survivor Review

Lone Survivor succeeds at paying honor to all the men and women who have died in military service (not just SEAL Team 10) by shining a spotlight on the horror and the bravery of war.

Adapted from the nonfiction book “Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10,” by former United States Navy SEAL, Marcus Luttrell, Peter Berg’s Lone Survivor chronicles a tragic story of survival against terrorist forces in a mountainous region outside of Asadabad, Afghanistan. Tasked with reconnoissance in a joint military operation to take down Taliban leader Ahmad Shah and disrupt his growing militia, four Navy SEAL operatives – SO2 Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), LT Michael P. Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), SO2 Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch), and SO2 Matthew Axelson (Ben Foster) – set up surveillance between the Sawtalo Sar and Gatigal Sar mountain peaks.

However, when the mission is compromised, the SEALs are forced into a difficult decision about how to proceed, and it isn’t long before the Murphy and his men come under heavy fire, pursued relentlessly across the mountain region by a vast and well-armed Taliban force.

Lone Survivor Navy SEALs Alexander Ludwig Shane Patton Lone Survivor Review

Navy SEALs in ‘Lone Survivor’

In an effort to bring Marcus Luttrell’s recount of events to the big screen, Berg went through the arduous process of re-creating every single bullet wound and mountainside fall as accurately as possible – delivering one of the most intense (and subsequently draining) military movies ever filmed. Lone Survivor holds very little back, relying on real-life warfront action that few moviegoers will have seen before, and revealing just how much damage the human body (and soul) can endure. Superb performances from the cast, paired with subtle (albeit limited) characterization of the actual SEALs, ensures that Lone Survivor isn’t just a violence-filled survival thriller, it’s a fitting honor to the men that lost their lives during Operation Red Wings (as well as the loved ones they left behind).

Anyone familiar with Luttrell’s book, the news story (which made national headlines), or the film’s trailer, will have a pretty clear idea of how the Lone Survivor account plays out; however, that doesn’t make the moment-to-moment action and events any less engaging. As mentioned, Berg succeeds at establishing the key players in Lone Survivor early on, with delicate and effective story arcs for each member of the team, along with an intimate look at Navy SEAL life, credo, and operations – without falling into the trap of heavy-handed military lingo and overly-macho stereotypes. Instead, Lone Survivor succeeds because its heroes are sensitive and loving men, dedicated husbands, boyfriends, and brothers who toil over paint colors for their wives – while serving as trained killers capable of enduring unbelievable physical and emotional torment. These are real people, who found themselves in a horribly real life-or-death battle.

Lone Survivor Mark Wahlberg Emile Hirsch Taylor Kitsch Lone Survivor Review

Mark Wahlberg, Emile Hirsch, and Taylor Kitsch in ‘Lone Survivor’

Still, engaging story material only goes so far in a big-screen adaption, and, thankfully, the Lone Survivor cast is packed with solid talent in even the smallest roles – including Eric Bana as LCDR Erik S. Kristensen and Jerry Ferrara as SGT Hasslert – ensuring that the character drama is as equally evocative as the gun fights. The principle players each bring a different element (and backstory) to the screen with exceptional (and stirring) performances from Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster, and Emile Hirsch – each one successfully carrying their respective SEAL from carefree brothers, joking and teasing one another, to shattered and worn-down heroes in an impossible situation.

Foster deserves added praise for his portrayal of Axelson – with one moment that will likely haunt many viewers long after they’ve finished Lone Survivor. Wahlberg’s work as Luttrell is equally strong – especially when the character’s condition dramatically changes in the third act. No doubt, the actor has seen his fair share of cheesy (not to mention meme-able) roles, but Wahlberg continues to prove that given the right material and clear direction, he’s capable of providing genuinely affecting performances – and his work in Lone Survivor is, at times, among his best.

Lone Survivor Ben Foster Matt Axe Axelson Lone Survivor Review

Ben Foster as Matt ‘Axe’ Axelson in ‘Lone Survivor’

Nevertheless, Lone Survivor is not going to be for everyone, given that it is an unrelenting recount of Operation Red Wings, and is as such beholden to the real-life tragedy. Berg manages to wrangle the step-by-step progression into a functional narrative, even managing to include a few non-American heroes, but viewers who expect to learn more about the SEALs or the larger situation they were in will find that Lone Survivor is locked to a very tight perspective. It’s a claustrophobic experience that will force moviegoers to repeatedly confront the horrors of the battlefield, to the point of absolute exhaustion. Some will, no doubt, be overwhelmed by the amount of violence; for others, each bullet wound will be a harsh reminder of the kind of terrors service men and women face each day.

Either way, it’s hard to fault Berg for his approach: it may not be for everyone, but Lone Survivor is a moving (and disturbing) look at the events of Operation Red Wings – and a thoughtful glimpse at the men that gave their lives for it. It’s a challenging viewing experience, filled with heartbreaking scenes of tragedy, but strong performances and a sincere approach to the real-life situation (as well as some genuinely uplifting moments of humanity), make it a worthwhile one.

If nothing else, much like Luttrell’s eyewitness written account, Lone Survivor succeeds at paying honor to all the men and women who have died in military service (not just SEAL Team 10) by shining a spotlight on the horror and the bravery of war.

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Lone Survivor runs 121 minutes and is Rated R for strong bloody war violence and pervasive language.

Let us know what you thought of the film in the comment section below.

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future reviews, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.

Our Rating:

4 out of 5

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    • Im sorry I didn’t hear that. Could you speak up?

      • Has anyone ever wondered:

        If capital letters on a computer screen = ‘yelling,’ then what do capital letters on a billboard represent?

        The thundering voice of God?

        • @Mindbender – *snort*

          Paul Young

        • I always imagine capital letters is Gilbert Gottfried screaming.

      • Sorry i turned on caps on accident and I had written so much that I didn’t want to go back and change it. Didn’t mean to yell at you guys!! LOL

    • Your description sounds like it was a stunning movie, Joe, and makes me want to see it even more…thankx! I have it listed on my Netflix list and am looking forward to it.

    • @Joe – I had to sit alone in the theater for a few minutes to collect myself after it ended. It was deeply emotional for me. They had 4 screenings of the film in my town (I only made the 4th) but in the 1st screening a brother and wife of one of the guys on the helicopter where in the theater. My friend sat behind them and said it was a really sobering moment for everyone.

      Paul Young

  2. Saw the movie this past week and agree more or less with this review. I had read the book just about when it first came out and it was chilling to the bone. I couldn’t put it down until I was finished. Understandably a lot of important elements of the story got left out due to the time constraints of a feature film, but the film serves its purpose. And agreed, Ben Foster as Axe was the standout performance.

    • Ben Foster is one of the most underrated actors working today. Maybe Warcraft puts him on the map.

      • really hope so! He’s such a talented actor and we havent had those ‘big’ and important roles he could be having at this point yet.

        So I hope he gets more worldwide recognition soon

          • I liked Foster as Archangel.

    • Peter Berg, is that you?

  3. Like the best war movies, Lone Survivor laces action with moral questions that haunt and provoke!…. Great movie!

  4. As a movie, I loved it. As a “true story” there are A LOT of inaccuracies. I served with Echo Co. 2nd Battalion 3rd Marines Regiment, and there were 19 SEALS who lost their lives in Operation Red Wings, but it was a Marine Corps op (Operation Whalers) where the Marines came in and destroyed the enemy responsible for those deaths. The ghost writer in Luttrell’s book (a noted “naval fiction” writer) and the people who made this movie beefed up the story quite a bit to make it more compelling (as if it needed it). The whole line about “Shah killed 20 Marines last week…” is bs. There were a total of 5 Marines killed by hostile fire in Afghanistan in the ENTIRE WAR up to that point. There was only 1 Marine killed the week before Operation Red Wings in Afghanistan. His name was Kevin Joyce and he drowned in the Pech River when a high back humvee tipped and he fell into the violent waters of the river. Again, as a movie and nothing more I thought it was pretty awesome. But to pass it off as “based on a true story” there is a lot of information either left out or completely altered to make it seem as if there was a singular hero.

    • Steve,

      Thank you for chiming in here. Have you read the book? I haven’t seen the film yet, but I have read the book – does the book contain the same inaccuracies or just the film? That was my concern about a film based on Marcus’ book – that they would sensationalize it enough to where the real life aspect of it would be diminished so that it would lose it’s “true story” impact.


    • I too was very disappointed by the liberties the film takes with Marcus’s story. The story did not need enhancements, which are too numerous to describe here. As a war movie, it’s Brett’s good though.

    • My comment and question was directed to you Steve.

  5. My wife and I saw it two nights ago. Very very good (and at the same time tragic) film. As someone who has served (U.S. Army) and been in combat, I immediately connected with those men. Real combat is nothing like COD.

  6. Few films make the ole eyes well up, thank God I watched this on my own. One of the best films I have ever watched. Ben Foster stole the show.

  7. Tears rolled down my cheeks after I watched this movie , truly emotional

  8. I have to say that I’m really surprised with the review. I felt it was “war porn” at it’s worst. Even though the movie is based on a true events it did seem that the characters were the worst type of charactures…

  9. I saw it yesterday and with out a doubt it is the best war movie in a long time. In a way it reminds me of Black Hawk Down in that is a story of soldiers that go into enemy territory with the mission of capture or eliminate a particular target and then got underfire in disadvantage of numbers. In some moments a had to close my eyes because of brutality and tension of the scenes. All the actors gave a strong performance. It really is a great film.

    • I was thinking the same thing. This is up there with some of the best war movies in my book. I think all of the actors really nailed it and did an amazing job! Even if this wasn’t based on a true story it still would have been hard to watch. Those poor guys went through a lot!!! When the helicopters were coming to extract them… knowing what was about to happen was though… If you liked the movie read the book. Much more in depth!

      If I remember right that was the largest loss of lives for the Seals.

      To all of the military people out there… thank you for everything you do!

  10. As someone who served in Afghanistan, Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD), and has had to pick up my brother’s hands and other body parts, this was a very difficult & emotional movie. I watched and watched and felt it hit a lot of good points (yes, it’s still a movie but it definitely makes an attempt to shed some light on an actual event) and it makes me laugh at some of the comments that some are posting… “war porn” being one. Do you have a clue what it is like to see a brother die? To hand him a body part? How about trying to remain sane while bullets are flying?

    Please be more sensitive with your insensitive comments while sitting on the couch, while many of us (AMERICANS) are paying for your freedom with our lives. And those that have survived are still suffering and trying to cope.

    • Well said my friend, well said.

    • +1

    • True and well stated. Its easy to be an armchair critic when you are nowhere near a war zone. There is nothing easy about war or even light. War is where men kill other men for ideals or reasons they hold dear, and that means using any means to dispose of the “enemy”, whoever that is. In that process there is nothing like “war-porn”, its just reality – period!

    • Thank you for stating that, Michael, and respectfully so.

  11. how bloody/violent is this ?

    • Very. In a very visceral, not gratuitous, way.

  12. I can’t get it out of my head. I’ve always liked Ben Foster, but his performance in this movie may have just made him one of my top 3 favorite actors.

  13. This movie is a FANTASTIC movie!!! It is so well narrated and the director did a GREAT job behind the camera! definitely worth 4 stars! Anyone should check it out! A GREAT TRIBUTE to our BOYS!

  14. I am retired military, live in Texas and saw this movie last night with my wife. I didn’t consider this a “War” movie but more an account of a very fierce battle. I will admit, that my wife and I attended the memorial for Chris Kyle in Cowboys Stadium,and I also read his book. The references to several of the men in this film seemed to make me a bit more attached to the characters. Regardless of some things that may be considered inaccuracies, once you are tied to the characters in the film you begin an emotional roller coaster throughout until the end of the story. At the point where the action stops and there is a long pregnant pause where everyone thinks the movie is over; however, nobody in the theater moved or talked. Then they started rolling the personal photos and video clips of those lost in this battle that include those in the helicopter and I could see a lot of hand to the eyes and heard a lot of throats clearing. Even walking out of the theater there was extreme silence. Quite honestly, when we were in the vehicle, on the way home, my wife was angry at the decision made by the team at the point when the mission was compromised. Could they have handled the three goat herders differently than they did and survived, without having to kill them? Quite possibly, but the reality is, the story was based on facts as they were presented. To change those facts, no matter how miniscule, would not provide an accurate representation of the event. If one is not faced with the same situation along with the stressors that accompany that situation, then it is easy for them, while in the comfort of their office or laying on their couch, to Monday morning quarterback the entire battle. Sure, you could change the outcome; however, at that point you would just have a fantasy taking place in your head.

    • Jim, when I saw the movie I was upset by the decision they took with the goat herders when the mission got compromised. However, one of the themes of the movie was how karma works. Lettrell did what was most human, ethical and most of all, Christian. As result, he survived thanks to people that he (and we, the audience) did not expect to come to help. Awesome movie. Thanks for your service.

  15. Saw this movie last night with my husband. I was an emotional wreck afterwards. HOWEVER, it is a movie every person in this country should see, so that each and every one of us (American, foreign, legal, illegal, what-have-you) can come away truly appreciating what the men and women of the U.S. armed forces go through to ensure the interests of this country. Whether or not you agree with the politics of it all, it’s the members of the armed forces that carry out the directives, and I don’t believe that they are appreciated enough. I do, and this movie only intensified my gratitude to these men and women. This movie is a must-see.

    • Totally agree with you, Nancy. I’m a naturalized American citizen, originally from South America, who has not served in the armed forces (too old by now to serve btw). When the movie ended, I felt the obligation to stay until all the credits ended as a way to pay respects to those who have fallen for my beloved America.

  16. As someone who isn’t “AMERICAN” (and doesn’t have to worry about anyone paying for my freedom with their lives) I saw it and thought it was a load of old jingoistic nonsense which was clearly designed to elicit a cheap emotional response. No more than a patriotic puff-piece. Propaganda. I understand it takes quite a few liberties with the events, and it shows.
    I did feel like I’d been through a battle after it though…. A battle to suspend disbelief, and try not to roll my eyes too much at the weak acting. It was almost as dire as Act of Valor, and that’s really saying something.

    • Seriously? It is fun to be an …….?

      How about this, I’m glad you’re not an American. One of the many things that make Americans special (ah right you wouldn’t have a clue), if you put us in a traumatic situation and more often than not (and I am actually writing from experience) we will rise to the occasion and take care of each other. It’s truly an amazing sight to behold.
      And while this is a movie, I’ve SEEN real life combat that would rival ANY of those scenes. Combat isn’t fun or pretty, its chaotic and life altering. I’m sure there other combat vets reading this that could truly understand. This movie does shed some light on an event that did happen. And it’s nice to know that these men are recognized and given the respect and honor they are due.

      It’s a real shame that AMERICANS have had to shed so much blood outside of the US… and while it might have been due to politics; however when we were there – we were there to truly help and do what we can to HELP. And we did make a major difference. I mean come on was your comment really necessary?

      Please learn about life.

    • Oh and by the way, most AMERICAN soldiers would gladly give our lives freely for our fellow Americans. You obviously know nothing about Americans.

      OK, I’m done w/ my rant screenrant moderators. However, I just couldn’t let that comment go unanswered.

  17. I read the book this past year (and also couldn’t put it down) and knew what to expect going in. From my interpretation of the book, the actors on-screen did a fine job. I was in the front of the theater as it was a packed house, but it was a very somber mood when the movie finished. Everyone sat in their seats with the end credit tribute. There were some liberties taken in the final act, I figure from time constraints and some Hollywood zeal, but a very good movie. It wasn’t “war porn,” but a realistic version of what some of our nation’s finest experienced. Though it came at the expense to what was a real life experience, a sobering film experience of reality that is much needed.

  18. I saw the movie recently, and that night I read Marcus Luttrell’s book. What I cannot understand is why people are saying this film is so accurate. In the film, Luttrell has to be defibrillated at least two times and brought back alive after flat lining. According to Luttrell’s own words, after he was rescued he was in “stable” condition. It seems strange that in the book he doesn’t mention flat lining. Is this historical accuracy? In the movie, he is about to get decapitated by the Taliban. In the book he is beaten by the Taliban and has his wrist broken. Is this historical accuracy? In the movie he limps on one leg after the battle. In the book he crawls for approximately 3 miles. Why change this from the book? In the movie, they show Luttrell as a superhuman being, an almost Christ figure, who is resurrected from the dead. In real life, Luttrell suffered massive injuries and suffered greatly. However, I am wondering why the film makers present him the way they do. What was their agenda?

  19. Amazing movie. One of the best war films of the 21st century. Acting is outstanding, action feels real and gut wrenching, and it is extremly powerful and emotional. I’m not gonna lie…I had tears in my eyes…I have not had tears in my eyes for a movie in a long, long time.

  20. I am not usually one to become a keyboard warrior and respond in this type if forum, but after seeing Lone Survivor and then coming on line to learn more about the real men, I need to comment.
    The movie is brilliant. It depicts the story of what happened in all it’s brutality fantastically. Sure it alters the some of the facts along the way and the ending to the real story, but I don’t care.
    It doesn’t glorify war. It is does not take sides. It is not jingoistic. It is the telling of a real story, about real men, who faced with difficult choices made real decisions and faced real consequences.
    As an Australian, I don’t have a political bias in the American context. I simply don’t understand the differences of opinion between Republicans and Democrats. Similarly my views on the war in Afghanistan would not sit well with a lot of Americans. But the point of the movie is not about those views.
    I do want to comment on some of the disgusting things I have read on various sites whilst learning more about the men in the story.
    One idiot questioned why the cast didn’t feature an African American, or an Italian or Jew. It is a true story!!!!! If one of the characters had been of a different ethnicity in real life it would have been in the movie. There is no white-Anglo conspiracy on that. It is just a fact.
    Another fool actually suggested that Luttrell himself was somehow responsible for what happened and that if he had manned up an taken the decision to kill the 3 captives when he had the chance then it all would have been OK. I felt sick when I read this. I have nothing but respect for Luttrell.
    The number of supposed ex military personnel that have written in to say Marines are better than Seals are better than Green Berets are better than Rangers are better than …… And they would have done it better is amazing. No one can comment on what happened in that way. The situation was as it was. What happened, happened. For an anonymous jerk to claim to be better from the safety of their keyboard again makes me sick.
    Finally, I don’t understand the whole American v American rhetoric that exists in a lot of the angry posts I have read. On one hand, if someone from outside like me, makes comments that are seen as attacking the USA you stand as one and point out all that is great about your nation. But at the same time, when the left is seen to be attacking the right, the language used is frightening. I truly hope that your nation is not on the verge of civil war. I truly hope that you don’t ask your armed services to take arms against your own people.
    I truly hope that I have just stumbled across those that are prepared to hide behind their keyboards.
    I am writing this because the movie and its story moved me in away I did not expect it to and in trying to learn more about the brave men who died.
    In closing I will ask one what if question.
    What if the old man or the young boy the Seals let go turned out to be the ones that got Luttrell? There is no answer if course, but for those who said kill first, it might make you pause to think. If Lone Survivor was made to the Hollywood formula, the young boy at the end would have been the young boy let go!!

    • Doug: I wouldn’t draw too many conclusions from the “angry posts” of the Keyboard Kommandoes you cite in your note. You’re likely reading notes of REMFs (at best), or (most likely) true Walter Mitty wannabes who were never in the service at all, and are lying through their teeth when they claim military experience. You are unlikely to find anyone who has really “been there and done that”, who will make those kinds of disparaging remarks about anyone who has actually spent time on the tip of the spear — regardless of branch of service. The real warriors know that the cost is too high, the demands too great, the sacrifices too real, to mock anyone’s honorable service — thus I highly doubt that you were conversing with real combat vets when they made these comments.

      The extremely difficult and controversial command decision to release the captives under the circumstances did nothing but highlight the real-life honor, ethos, character, and especially courage of the men in operation Redwing. The guy who suggested that the SEAL in question needed to “man up” because of this decision, might want to avoid making that suggestion if he’s ever in the presence of any SEAL, Ranger, Delta, Green Beret, Marine SOF, or any other SOCOM veteran. They overwhelmingly go well out of their way to avoid shedding innocent blood, even to the point of putting themselves and their comrades at great risk, and I rather imagine that they might take some offense to such a comment.

      We are indeed a polarized nation, one that has become much more polarized over the last 5 1/2 years. Our political leaders, who should be leading the way towards economic and fiscal sanity, military strength, intra-societal healing, and reasonable political consensus, are instead aiding and abetting the processes of fiscal excess, and political, economic and class warfare, because it makes for great sound bites, poll numbers, and is effective short-term electoral strategy. It’s a great concern to me, as I believe the damage done to be lasting and cumulative — and I see no cure for it, until we as a nation sit up, go to the polls, and demand real accountability and a reckoning from our leadership on election day.

      Sorry, long speech. Your comments as “an outsider” piqued my interest, so you got the memory dump, long version. My apologies! :-)

      • Thanks for the reply. I appreciate getting a considered and intelligent response. It was much better than some of the comments I received to my post on another blog site. I wish you well.

        • And to you also — best wishes!

  21. I liked this movie.

    The negative reviews above and the negative reviews by critics in RT seem to be one-size-fits-all reviews that are altogether negative on the American military, are a waste of time to read.

    I don’t see a lot of violent movies. But I saw this movie. I liked it. I think that I liked it the same way that I liked the movie “Argo.” I never read the book and didn’t know the story before going into the movie. I understand that, just like Argo, some minor facts are changed to help tell the overall story and squeeze a story into a compact two hours. I suppose that I am not going to get all tripped up over trivial things.

    I am amazed that this movie has taught me more about the war in Afghanistan then all of the political speeches and news reporting of the last ten years or so.

    I was pleased that this was a real story, and that it did not have to put politically-correct men of color and women into roles. I am a little tired of movies that will pair up one black guy and one white guy. There is a time and place for that, and this movie isn’t it. But this is real life. The ending with the photograph snapshots showed that.

    The story was good. The camera shots and visuals were good. Even though I am not a fan of the shaky camera that is so prevalant in TV and movies, now, I didn’t mind the shakiness in the battle scenes. The acting was good. The thing is that it was a group, not just one person, so there was just enough character development to show that they were real people with real lives, but I can’t say that there was award-winning acting for any one actor giving a full range of human emotion. But I did connect with the characters; they mostly did not seem artificial.

    So yes, I recommend the movie.

  22. The best war-film ever. It really moved me & inspired me.
    I am not an American but still I was amazed how much dedication and courage these people had exhibited. I am now starting to read the book.

  23. I read the book years ago. I saw the movie. My thoughts are that so many things went wrong, loss of comms, not knowing what to do with the goat herders ( I think they handled it correctly). The QRF Apaches leaving, it is just depressing that so many things went wrong and so many lives were lost. Sad story but depicted great courage.
    I am honored to be an American and thank our Military and their Families for the sacrifices they have made.

    • Amen, Happy.

      This movie was effective precisely because it didn’t try to embellish, politically slant, sugar-coat, or aggrandize the story in any way. Like so many true tales of such heroic deeds, the truth of what happened exceeds any embellishment in any case. And since the essential narrative is true, at the end of the tale, one is left with profound sorrow over the very real and tragic losses, but also with the overwhelming emotion of gratitude that we have such people willing to take those risks, make those life-and-death decisions with imperfect information, and ultimately endure the suffering and, in many cases, make the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf.

      In addition to profuse gratitude to our military personnel, hats off to the people who produced the film. In the midst of an ocean of empty hollywood tripe, we need more productions like this that remind us of things of such value.