Faced with an impossible moral decision, the small band is isolated from help and surrounded by a much larger force of Taliban ready for war. As they confront unthinkable odds together, the four men find reserves of strength and bravery as they stay in the fight to the finish.
Mark Wahlberg (“The Fighter,” “2 Guns”) leads the cast as Marcus Luttrell, the author of the first-person memoir “Lone Survivor,” whose book has become a motivational resource for its lessons on how the power of the human spirit is tested when we are pushed beyond our mental and physical limits.
Starring alongside Wahlberg as the other members of the elite team who gave everything for their brothers-in-arms are Taylor Kitsch (“Savages”) as Michael Murphy, Emile Hirsch (TV’s “Bonnie and Clyde”) as Danny Dietz and Ben Foster (“3:10 to Yuma”) as Matthew “Axe” Axelson. Eric Bana (“Star Trek”) joins the core team as Erik Kristensen, their commanding officer in Afghanistan.
“Lone Survivor” is written and directed by Peter Berg, who again crafts a striking portrait of the unbreakable bonds between men that he first explored in “Friday Night Lights.” Based on the book “Lone Survivor” by retired Petty Officer First Class Marcus Luttrell with Patrick Robinson, the film tells the dramatic story of how a single decision resulted in unimaginable consequences for these SEALs and the fellow servicemen who tried to rescue them.
On June 28, 2005, a four-man reconnaissance and surveillance team boarded a helicopter for insertion into a remote mountainous region in Kunar province, near the Pakistan border. Their mission, code name Operation Red Wings, was to identify Ahmad Shah, a key Taliban leader believed to be hiding out in the mountainous terrain and responsible for the deaths of many American service members. Here is but a glimpse into the lives of five of the men whom we follow in the film.
Erik Kristensen: Lieutenant Commander Erik S. Kristensen was the commander of Operation Red Wings, and he was all too well aware that Shah killed 20 Marines the previous week and that the Taliban leader would not hesitate to execute American military whenever and wherever he could. When Kristensen’s four-man reconnaissance team went off the grid, the commander did everything in his power to find his SEALs and get them back to base. For his actions in the line of duty, Kristensen was given the Bronze Star with Combat “V” for Valor, Purple Heart, Combat Action Ribbon and Afghanistan Campaign Medal, awarded posthumously.
Michael Murphy: Lieutenant Michael Patrick “Murph” Murphy was the on-ground team officer in charge of Operation Red Wings, and he reported directly to Kristensen. In advance of a bigger special operations force that would wipe out Shah, Murphy was tasked with taking his four-man team through the rocky and treacherous Hindu Kush region. For his actions, Murphy was the first person in Afghanistan to be awarded the U.S. military’s highest decoration, the Medal of Honor, posthumously.
Marcus Luttrell: Leading Petty Officer Marcus Luttrell was the medic of Operation Red Wings and a member of SEAL Team 10 at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. The team’s mission, under Lt. Murphy’s command, was to gather intel on Shah, and as one of its snipers, Luttrell was key at keeping enemies at bay. For his actions in the line of duty, Luttrell was awarded the Navy Cross.
Matthew “Axe” Axelson: Sonar Technician (Surface) Second Class Petty Officer Matthew Gene “Axe” Axelson was nothing short of an eagle eye. Before his men left Bagram Airfield, the navigation specialist studied their infiltration plan again and again. Alongside Luttrell, Axe drew detailed maps, diagrams and blueprints of every structure in Shah’s village as they conducted reconnaissance. He knew this region better than many nonnatives ever will. For his actions in the line of duty, Axelson was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross.
Danny Dietz: Gunner’s Mate Second Class (SEAL) Danny P. Dietz, Jr. was a communications officer and spotter for SEAL Team 10. The mountains of the Hindu Kush are extraordinarily difficult terrain and extremely spotty for communication. Dietz tried valiantly to get any radio signal when it was time to advise the evacuation team that the mission was compromised and his fellow SEALs needed extraction. For his actions in the line of duty, Dietz was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross.
Although Murphy, Dietz, Axe and Luttrell—under the command of Kristensen—coordinated a successful infiltration into the region, three goatherders grazing their flock stumbled upon the men’s hiding place and plunged the mission into immediate jeopardy. The SEALs knew it was time to abort. Protocol dictated that they release the civilian noncombatants, but were they to do so, they knew that it could be mere minutes before word reached the numerous Taliban fighters that Americans were up the mountain.
After a discussion of the rules of war, the SEALs saw that they only had three choices: kill the three civilians to prevent them from disclosing the location to the Taliban; tie them up and leave them on the mountain, where they would surely die due to the dropping temperatures; or set them free and make their own way to a communications zone and pickup. Ultimately, the civilians were cut loose, and the SEALs began an arduous climb to what they hoped to be safety.
Soon, hellfire rained down upon them. The Taliban assault—an intense firefight from PK machine guns, AK-47s, RPG-7s and 82 mm mortars—came quickly and relentlessly from three sides. Nothing the elite SEALs had experienced could have prepared them for what came next: They were outgunned by a much larger enemy force and driven deeper and deeper into the treacherous terrain.
Tragically, Murphy, Dietz and Axelson were killed on that mountain, alongside their would-be rescuers—those manning a Night Stalker MH-47D Chinook helicopter that was attempting to save the four SEALs. The helicopter was taken down by rocket-propelled grenade fire from the Taliban forces, and those aboard perished.
The lives of 16 Special Operations Forces including 8 other Navy SEALs—Kristensen, Petty Officer First Class Jeffrey S. Taylor, Petty Officer Second Class James E. Suh, Chief Petty Officer Jacques J. Fontan, Petty Officer First Class Jeffrey A. Lucas, Senior Chief Petty Officer Daniel R. Healy, Lieutenant Michael M. McGreevy, Jr., Petty Officer Second Class Shane E. Patton—and 8 Army Night Stalkers—Major Stephen C. Reich, Sergeant First Class Michael L. Russell, Chief Warrant Officer Christopher J. Scherkenbach, Master Sergeant James “Tre” W. Ponder, III, Sergeant Kip A. Jacoby, Sergeant First Class Marcus V. Muralles, Staff Sergeant Shamus O. Goare, and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Corey J. Goodnature—were lost on that fateful day.
Because of the actions of his fellow men, Luttrell—although gravely wounded—evaded the enemy fighters and crawled miles to safety. Once again, however, Afghan civilians stumbled upon his hiding place. This time, he was more fortunate. A Pashtun villager named Gulab discovered Luttrell nearly dead—where the petty officer first class lay with a torn shoulder, facial fractures, broken back and pelvis and bullet holes that had riddled his body.
Gulab, whose tribe lives by the ancient code of the Pashtunwali—one that dates back to the pre-Islamic era—that dictates aid for a person in dire need from his enemies, was unblinking in his decision to take Luttrell into his home. At great risk to himself, his family and fellow villagers, Gulab defied the Taliban warlord Shah and hid the American soldier until he could be returned safely to his base.
Miraculously, Luttrell was finally located by American forces and brought to safety. Through courage, perseverance, the kindness of strangers and the ultimate sacrifice of his brother SEALs under the most extreme conditions, Luttrell is alive today with one mission: to share their story.
Luttrell says: “It’s about brotherhood, and about no matter how bad it gets or what happens to you, you keep fighting just to protect the guy next to you until the minute you die. You need to go through something like that to understand the capacity to which someone will go to give their life for somebody else. Most people wouldn’t do that. That’s what it resorted to: It went from hunting this guy down to protecting each other until the very end.”
A total of 11 SEALs and 8 soldiers perished on that mountain. This day is forever marked in our history, as it became the biggest single loss of life for Naval Special Warfare forces since World War II, until August 6, 2011, when a U.S. Boeing CH-47 Chinook military helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan and 30 U.S. military personnel and 8 Afghans were killed.
Opening across the Philippines on Jan. 8, 2014, “Lone Survivor” is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures International.