Lone Survivor is a 2013 American biographical war drama film based on the eponymous 2007 non-fiction book by Marcus Luttrell with Patrick Robinson. Set during the war in Afghanistan, it dramatizes the unsuccessful United States Navy SEALs counter-insurgent mission Operation Red Wings, during which a four-man SEAL reconnaissance and surveillance team was tasked to track down the Taliban leader Ahmad Shah. Written and directed by Peter Berg, the film stars Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster, and Eric Bana.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Peter Berg|
|Written by||Peter Berg|
|Based on||Lone Survivor|
by Marcus Luttrell
|Edited by||Colby Parker Jr.|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures (United States) |
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures (International)
|Box office||$154.8 million|
Upon first learning of the book in 2007, Berg arranged several meetings with Luttrell to discuss adapting the book to film. Universal Pictures acquired the film rights in August 2007, after bidding against other major studios. In re-enacting events, Berg drew much of his screenplay from Luttrell's eyewitness accounts in the book, as well as autopsy and incident reports related to the mission. After directing Battleship (2012) for Universal, Berg resumed working on Lone Survivor. Principal photography began in October 2012 and concluded in November, after 42 days. Filming took place on location in New Mexico, using digital cinematography. Luttrell and several other Navy SEAL veterans acted as technical advisors, while multiple branches of the United States Armed Forces aided the production. Two companies, Industrial Light & Magic and Image Engine, created the visual effects.
Lone Survivor opened in limited release in the United States on December 25, 2013, before opening across North America on January 10, 2014. It received generally positive reviews; some critics praised Berg's direction, as well as the acting, story, visuals and battle sequences, while others derided the film for focusing more on its action scenes than on characterization. Lone Survivor grossed over $154 million, of which $125 million was from North America. It was chosen by National Board of Review as one of the top ten films of 2013, and received two Academy Award nominations for Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing.
In 2005 Afghanistan, Taliban leader Ahmad Shah is responsible for killing over twenty United States Marines, as well as villagers and refugees who were aiding American forces. In response to these killings, a United States Navy SEALs unit is ordered to execute a counter-insurgent mission to capture Shah. As part of the mission, a four-man SEAL reconnaissance and surveillance team is tasked with locating Shah. The four SEALs include team leader Michael Murphy; Marksmen Marcus Luttrell and Matthew Axelson and communications specialist Danny Dietz.
The team is inserted into the Hindu Kush region of Afghanistan, where they make a trek through the mountains where they begin to encounter communications problems. Arriving at their designated location, the SEALs are accidentally discovered by local goat herders, whom the SEALs detain. Knowing that if they release them, the herders will likely alert the Taliban to their presence, the team is split about whether to kill the herders or not. After a brief debate, the team chooses to release them and abort the mission, but before they can escape, they are attacked by Taliban forces. Although the SEALs kill several Taliban gunmen, they are heavily outnumbered and at a disadvantage, and the men take on various wounds during the firefight, worsened when they jump off the edge of a ridge and into a large ravine.
Despite their injuries, the SEALs make a defensive retreat through the steep woods. Dietz begins to lose consciousness and shouts questions to Luttrell, unwittingly revealing the team's position. Murphy and Axelson jump off another ridge to lead the escape while Luttrell tries to carry Dietz down the mountain, but Dietz is shot again; the impact forces Luttrell to lose his grip and fall off the cliff. A dying Dietz remains at the top of the cliff and is killed. Murphy attempts to climb back up the cliff to get a phone signal in order to call for support via satellite phone with Axelson and Luttrell providing cover fire. When he finally reaches higher ground, Murphy is able to alert his unit of his team's predicament and request assistance before he is killed himself.
In response to Murphy's distress call, a quick reaction force made up of fellow SEALs boards Chinook helicopters and heads toward the location without gunship escort. When they arrive, the Taliban shoot down one of the helicopters, killing all eight Navy SEALs and eight Special Operations aviators aboard, including Commander Kristensen, while the second helicopter is forced back. Luttrell and Axelson are left to fend for themselves again. Axelson attempts to find cover but is killed when he leaves his hiding spot to attack several approaching insurgents. When Luttrell is discovered by the Taliban, one of the insurgents fires a rocket-propelled grenade, and its impact throws him to the bottom of a rock crevice where he is able to hide from the Taliban and eventually escape.
Luttrell stumbles upon a small body of water where a local Pashtun villager, Mohammad Gulab, discovers him. Gulab takes Luttrell into his care, returning to his village, where he attempts to hide Luttrell in his home. Gulab then sends a mountain man to the nearest American base to alert them to Luttrell's location. Taliban fighters arrive at the village to take Luttrell, but Gulab and the villagers intervene, threatening to kill the fighters if they harm Luttrell. The fighters leave, but later return to punish the villagers for protecting Luttrell. Gulab and his villagers are initially able to fend off the attackers but are nearly overrun and Luttrell is badly wounded before American forces arrive and defeat the advancing Taliban. After thanking the villagers who had saved him, Luttrell is evacuated. He almost succumbs to his injuries but is revived in time.
Images of the real Luttrell, Gulab and the fallen service members killed during the mission are shown during a four-minute montage, and an epilogue reveals that the Pashtun villagers agreed to help Luttrell as part of a traditional code of honor known as the Pashtunwali.
- The hospital corpsman and sniper of a four-man reconnaissance and surveillance team, SEAL Team 10. Wahlberg was the first actor to sign on as a star of the film during its early stages of development. He agreed to portray Luttrell after reading Peter Berg's script. Wahlberg chose not to read Luttrell's book Lone Survivor during production to avoid arguments with Berg over events and details that were left out in the book. "The problem when adapting a piece of material like that is that you always feel like something is missing", he explained. "I wanted to come at it from this perspective." Of Wahlberg's portrayal, Luttrell stated, "Wahlberg is a consummate professional, and he's a great actor. It was a little strange watching somebody trying to play me, but we talked about it and I knew it would turn out great. I was more worried about the other guys because they're not around to speak for themselves." Wahlberg has since cited Lone Survivor as his favorite film role as an actor and producer: "This is the best working experience I've ever had, under the toughest conditions. I remember early on as an actor, you worked a long, hard day, but you did something you felt was special, and that car ride home you couldn't stop thinking about it. I had that feeling every day on this movie."
- The team leader and spotter of SEAL Team 10. Lone Survivor is Kitsch's second feature film collaboration with Berg after Battleship (2012). :41–42 Kitsch said, "Murph's actions speak louder than anything he's ever said, and they should. I think he was that type of leader who just loved his guys, and getting the nod to play this guy was something special." Prior to production of the film, Kitsch prepared for the role by performing high-intensity workouts with body armor and long runs with a 40-lb weighted vest.
- SEAL Team 10's communications specialist and spotter. Hirsch was approached by Berg in 2009, and physically prepared for the role by attending a 90-minute weight program for nearly four months. "I wanted a challenge, so I started to train and work out on my own", he said. "I genuinely didn't know what was going to happen. Months went by and it was to the point where I was passing on other movies, but I didn't have this job. I was willing to do anything. I ended up training six days a week, four to five hours a day."
- SEAL Team 10's sniper. Wahlberg recommended Foster to Berg, as they had previously collaborated on Contraband (2012). Prior to filming, Foster met with the fallen serviceman's family and friends to understand the person he would be portraying. "It was such a rich opportunity to listen to the Axelsons talk about their son. Their generosity and inclusiveness with me was so touching and open. They love to talk about their boy because they love him; so we, in turn, love him. We can't bring him back, but what we can do is aim, every day, to do the best that we can to honor him."
- SEAL Team 10's quick-reaction force (QRF) commander. Bana had read the book Lone Survivor prior to production, and was willing to appear in the film, regardless of which role was offered to him. Upon being cast as Kristensen, Bana researched the fallen serviceman and his family. On joining the production of Lone Survivor, Bana stated, "There are two factors that make this story special, and they are the reasons why I jumped on board. One is the story itself, and two is who chooses to direct a project like this. I knew how involved [Berg] would be and that he would know how to portray SEAL teammates. That was what I wanted to be a part of. The greatest way to honor these guys is to make a great film and have it stand the test of time." Bana did not physically prepare for the role. "My responsibility was really to understand the role of the mission commander and the relevant information with respect with the chain of command and what it means to go in the QRF and the processes involved", he explained. "It was far more important to be the person that was responsible for that part of the story and understand that completely. There's no purpose in me going out and firing an M4 in this case."
Ali Suliman, who previously collaborated with Berg on the 2007 film The Kingdom, plays Mohammad Gulab, an Afghan villager;:43 Alexander Ludwig plays Navy SEAL Machinist's Mate Shane Patton. Marcus Luttrell appears in the film in an uncredited role. He first appears as a SEAL teammate who lightheartedly hazes Patton, then during a briefing scene where he is seen shaking his head when the Rules of Engagement are being explained, and later as one of the servicemen who perishes when a CH-47 Chinook is shot down. Luttrell said of the latter scene, "I was on the other side of the mountain when those guys came to help me, so getting to die on the helicopter in the movie was a very powerful moment for me."
The cast is rounded out by Yousuf Azami as Ahmad Shah, a Taliban leader; Sammy Sheik as Taraq, a field commander of the Taliban group; Rich Ting as SO2 James Suh; Dan Bilzerian as Senior Chief Special Operator (SOCS) Daniel Healy; Jerry Ferrara as United States Marine Corps Sgt Hasslert; Scott Elrod as Peter Musselman; Rohan Chand as Gulab's son; and Corey Large as US Navy SEAL Captain Kenney. Zarin Mohammad Rahimi, who acted as a technical advisor during production, appears as an elderly shepherd who discovers the four-man SEAL team during the mission; Nicholas Patel and Daniel Arroyo play the goat herders who assist the shepherd.
—Sarah Aubrey (producer):16
Following publication of Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson's nonfiction book Lone Survivor (2007), producer Barry Spikings met Luttrell's attorney Alan Schwartz, who was interested in making a film adaptation. Schwartz suggested that Spikings' son-in-law Akiva Goldsman write the screenplay. Goldsman did not believe he was the right screenwriter for the project, and suggested that Peter Berg write and direct the film. Spikings and Goldsman passed the book on to Berg's producing partner Sarah Aubrey.  Berg first learned of the book while filming Hancock, and after he and Aubrey read it, they arranged several meetings with Luttrell to discuss a film adaptation. Luttrell also viewed a rough cut of Berg's then-upcoming film The Kingdom (2007), and was impressed by his direction. "[Berg] caught me with his attention to detail", he said, "and how he portrayed the enemy in the film."
The film rights to the book had become the subject of a bidding war among a host of established studios, including Warner Bros., Sony Pictures Entertainment, Paramount Pictures, DreamWorks, and Universal Pictures. Universal secured the rights in August 2007, for more than $2 million. The studio had also acquired the United States distribution rights as part of a negative pickup deal with the film's producers. Berg then chose to direct Battleship (2012) for Universal before resuming production on Lone Survivor.
When Mark Wahlberg read the script and expressed an interest in portraying Luttrell, he and his manager Stephen Levinson pitched the concept to producer Randall Emmett, the co-founder of Emmett/Furla Films, during the 2012 filming of 2 Guns. After reading the script, Emmett traveled to Los Angeles, where he met with Berg and Aubrey to discuss the film's production. After Universal secured the rights to distribute Lone Survivor in the United States, executive producer Mark Damon's independent film company Foresight Unlimited took Berg and Emmett to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival to secure worldwide pre-sales. The film attracted $30 million in worldwide pre-sales to distributors in 40 international markets.
Lone Survivor had an estimated budget of $40 million. Three production companies - Emmett/Furla Films, Herrick Entertainment, and Envision Entertainment - collaborated to finance the film. In addition, as part of the negative pickup deal with Universal, the film's producers—Berg, Aubrey, Spikings, Goldsman, Emmett, Wahlberg, Levinson, Norton Herrick, and Vitaly Grigoriants—contributed at least $1 million each to finance production costs. To avoid further costs, Berg chose to work for a minimum salary allowed under Directors Guild of America rules, $17,000 a week. He also convinced several cast and crew members to lower their asking prices.
Berg had discussed the project with Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, and Ben Foster years earlier. Universal held an open casting call in Los Angeles, aiding in the filmmakers' search for supporting actors, extras, photo doubles, and stand-ins. In August 2012, it was announced that Alexander Ludwig and Eric Bana had joined the cast.
Although Wahlberg, Kitsch, Hirsch and Foster had physically trained for their roles prior to filming, Luttrell organized a three-week training regimen at a bootcamp in New Mexico, where the actors were trained by elite military personnel in weapons, military communications, and tactics. Military advisor Mark Semos trained the four actors in live-firing exercises so they could feel the physical impact of firing military rifles. They also practiced "shoot move cover" drills to improve their muscle memory and enable them to react convincingly as Navy SEALs during filming.
—Peter Berg (writer, director and producer):16
While the book chronicles Luttrell's 1999 enlistment and training, as well as his 2005 deployment to Afghanistan, Berg decided that the film adaptation would focus mainly on the events of the failed United States Navy SEALs mission Operation Red Wings, as well as the bonding and camaraderie of Luttrell and his fallen teammates. Prior to writing the screenplay, Berg met with the families of the deceased. "My research started with meeting the families of the SEAL teammates who were killed", he said. "I went to New York and met the Murphys. I went to Colorado and met the Dietzes, and I went to Northern California and met the Axelsons. After spending time with them, you realize that these kids were the best and the brightest; they were the stars of the families. The grief and the wounds are still very raw. You would have to be inhuman to not feel the responsibility when that kind of grief gets shared with you." Berg also expressed that he was motivated by the families to make the story as realistic as possible; his goal was "to put [the viewer] into the experience of what these guys went through. And it was obviously a traumatic and violent and exhausting experience".
To provide authenticity, Luttrell moved into Berg's home for one month while Berg was writing the script. He acted as a consultant, detailing to Berg his eyewitness account of the events that unfolded during Operation Red Wings. Berg later embedded with a Navy SEAL team—becoming the first civilian to do so—and lived with them for a month in Iraq while he continued writing the screenplay. In re-enacting the injuries and deaths of the fallen Navy SEAL servicemen, Berg relied on Luttrell's eyewitness accounts from the book, as well as autopsy reports of the deceased and after-action reports. The United States Navy provided incident reports related to the mission, as well as archival military training footage, which is shown during the film's opening credits sequence.:1 Still photographs shown during the opening credits sequence were taken from Richard D. Schoenberg's war photography book The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday: Making Navy SEALs. During filming, there were some dialogue changes in comparison to Berg's script, as the filmmaker occasionally encouraged the actors to improvise their lines.
Principal photography was scheduled to start on September 15, 2012, but did not commence until October of that year. The film was shot on location in New Mexico. The production received a 25% tax credit for shooting in the state. Berg was granted creative autonomy, as Universal did not fully oversee the film's production. With Lone Survivor, Berg continued his trademark of having war veterans as part of his film crew. Luttrell, along with several other Navy SEAL veterans, acted as technical advisors during the production. In addition, senior military advisor Harry Humphries, a former Navy SEAL who had worked with Berg on Hancock and The Kingdom, served as an associate producer.
Filming first took place at the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of the Santa Fe National Forest. Eight days were spent on mountains ranging from 11,000 to 12,000 feet (3,400–3,700 m). In recreating the Hindu Kush mountain range that stretches between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the film crew shot at 10 separate locations in the national forest. Stunt coordinator and second unit director Kevin Scott was tasked with depicting the four Navy SEALs tumbling down rugged terrain with sixty-degree inclines. Scott did not choreograph the stunts, nor did he have the performers use wires or dummies; He instructed them to fall 15 to 20 feet (4.6–6.1 m) off cliffs and avoid looking at the ground until right before impact. Several stunt performers were injured after falling from the mountains, as the falls proved too difficult to control.
Production moved to Chilili, New Mexico for two weeks of filming. The location's wooded areas were used to film several battle scenes, and the art department built sets to create an Afghan village occupied by Ahmad Shah (Yousuf Azami) and his Taliban insurgents, as well as a Pashtun village where Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg) is rescued. Filming then moved to Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which doubled for scenes set in Bagram Airfield, a U.S. military base in Afghanistan. The production then moved to soundstages at I-25 Studios in Albuquerque. The filmmakers occupied two 26,000-square-foot (2,400 m2) stages in the facility for interior scenes and bluescreen work. The art department built the character Gulab's house, as well as interiors for Bagram Airfield's patrol base Camp Ouellette. The bluescreen work involved scenes depicting a CH-47 Chinook in a gimbal, and a 4-foot scale model of a Hindu Kush mountain cliff built by the art department team in Los Angeles.:1 Principal photography concluded in November 2012, after 42 days of filming.
—Tobias Schliessler (cinematographer):2
Lone Survivor was director of photography Tobias Schliessler's fifth collaboration with Berg,:51 as well as Berg's first film to be shot with digital cinematography. Schliessler intended to shoot the film with Arri Alexa cameras, but instead used Red Epic digital cameras with Fujinon and Angénieux lenses.:2 He chose the Red Epic camera "due to its compact size and lightweight body.":2
For the film's visual style, Schliessler was influenced by British-American photojournalist Tim Hetherington's war photography book Infidel, which details a single U.S. platoon assigned to an outpost in the Korengal Valley during the war in Afghanistan.:2 Prior to filming, Schleissler and Berg shot test footage with the digital cameras and brought it to digital colorist Stefan Sonnenfeld at post-production facility Company 3 for color grading.:4
The Santa Fe National Forest's rocky terrain and steep inclines proved difficult for conventional camera equipment—such as cranes and dollies—which resulted in much of the film's scenes being shot by the camera operators, who were rigged to aerial ski lifts above the action. "The location we picked was on top of the ski area above 12,000 feet in Santa Fe, and the high altitude made it extremely physically demanding", Schleissler explained. "All our equipment had to be hand-carried into some of our remote locations, which meant we had to limit ourselves to the bare minimum ... No one ever hiked to the set empty-handed, including our producers. It was one big team effort that made us a close film family.":2
Digital cinema post-production facility DeLuxe supplied the production with a 40-foot trailer, known as the EC3 (a joint venture between Company 3 and EFILM). The equipment enabled Schleissler to overlook every shot of the film in the EC3 trailer. He also collaborated with colorist Adrian Delude in changing the exposure for all cameras used which, according to Schliessler, "would have been more difficult when shooting on film.":2 Company 3 carried out the digital intermediate.
Design and effectsEdit
To produce the many injuries received by the four-man SEAL team, the filmmakers recruited KNB Effects team Gregory Nicotero and Howard Berger. To aid Nicotero and Berger in recreating the injuries of the fallen servicemen, Berg provided autopsy reports of the deceased. Special effects supervisor Bruno van Zeebroeck created RPG explosions and bullet hits for the battle sequences that occur in the roads around Gulab's home. Multiple branches of the United States Armed Forces supplied the production with military vehicles. The United States Air Force provided two Sikorsky HH-60 Pave Hawks from Kirtland Air Force Base, both of which were manned by military personnel and used to depict a combat search and rescue. The United States Army provided the production with two MH-47 Chinooks and two Boeing AH-64 Apaches from Fort Hood, Texas. The United States Marine Corps provided thirty Marine Corps reservists for scenes set in Bagram Airfield and Jalalabad. According to The Economist, Beretta paid the production company $250,000 to use their guns in the film in place of the Sig Sauer p226 and Kimber 1911s weapons actually used by SEAL teams.
Costume designer Amy Stofsky ensured that the military wardrobe seen in the film reflected the 2005 time period. According to Stofsky, what the fallen servicemen wore back then is no longer current issue, as the United States Armed Forces stopped manufacturing the uniforms in 2006. While researching the time period, Stofsky met with the fallen servicemen's families, as well as Navy SEAL teammates. Stofsky and the wardrobe department collaborated with the Hollywood-based costume facility Western Costume to find the right fabric for the military uniforms. She and her team manufactured uniforms for the film's lead actors, extras, stunt and photo doubles, and military personnel who were also acting as extras. Stofksy noted that a total of "36 cookie cutter uniforms" were produced for Wahlberg.
In designing the costumes for the Pashtun people and Taliban forces, Stofsky aimed to create a visual distinction between the villagers and Taliban fighters. "Luttrell survived because of the age-old tradition of the Pashtun culture in providing hospitality and safety to those that enter their home", she explained. "We dyed the Taliban's costumes black, charcoal, wine, and indigo and kept the villagers light. Their humanity prevails. This is what we hoped to get across." Stofsky utilized a North Hollywood-based Afghan vendor, Moe Noorzai, for traditional Afghan clothing including vests, pants, dresses and Kashmir scarves. Stofsky also had a New Mexico-based tailor produce all of the turbans featured in the film. Zarin Mohammad Rahimi, an Afghan refugee who fled to the United States to avoid the Taliban, and his sons, Muhammad Nawroz Rahimi and Nawaz Rahimi, were hired to act as technical advisors during production. The Rahimis collaborated with Stofsky, as well as the wardrobe and casting departments, to help them understand the language, customs and fighting methods of the Pashtun villagers and Taliban fighters. The eldest Rahimi also appears in the film as an elderly shepherd.
Editing and post-production work took roughly seven months to complete.:3 Colby Parker Jr. served as editor, having previously worked with Berg on editing Battleship. Parker spent six months editing the film at the Lantana Entertainment Media Campus in Santa Monica, California.:3 The editorial department used four Avid Media Composer systems to edit the film. Parker edited the film during principal photography, but was not on location. "I like to blast through the footage to keep up with the camera. This way I can let [Berg] know if any extra coverage is needed", he explained. "Often I'll get word to the 1st [assistant director] and he'll sneak in extra shots if the schedule permits. Although I will have a first assembly when the production wraps, Peter will never sit though a complete viewing of that. He works in a very linear manner, so as we start to view a scene, if there's something that bothers him, we'll stop and address it."
The first cut of the film was two-and-a-half hours long. Parker then cut the film down to two hours when he realized there was a way to further trim the film. "There were a number of scenes that paced well when we intercut them rather than letting them play as written in a linear fashion. For instance, we wanted to let the mission briefing scene play normally—this is where the SEAL team is briefed on their target. That scene was followed by a scene of the target beheading a local. We realized that an actual briefing is very technical and rote, so intercutting these scenes helped keep the audience engaged."
Sound editing and mixing work took place at Todd Soundelux. Supervising sound editor Wylie Stateman recorded on-location sound during filming, placing microphones on the actors' backpacks and clothing "so [the viewers] would hear explosions and bullets going by as though [they] were with these guys as they were being attacked." In creating sound effects for the environment of each scene, Stateman relied on foley design, rather than traditional sound effects.
The two visual effects companies for the film were Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) and Image Engine,:3 with overall supervision by Grady Cofer and Jesper Kjölsrud, respectively. In total, the film has over 400 visual effects shots. ILM was responsible only for creating a helicopter crash sequence in the film.:3 Berg requested that the sequence be done by ILM, who had also worked on his previous film Battleship. Image Engine's effects work consisted mainly of set extensions and location enhancements; scenes were supplemented with computer-generated mountains, buildings and backgrounds, as well as muzzle flashes for firearms.:3
The film's score was composed by Steve Jablonsky and American post-rock band Explosions in the Sky. Jablonsky said of the collaboration, "It was great. I didn't work directly with them because they're in Austin, Texas and I'm in L.A. I spoke to them on the phone and I think sixty, sixty‑five percent of the scores is them. We ended up doing our own things. We tried to not have two totally different sounding scores."
Berg said, "[Jablonsky] did the last reel; the band Explosions in the Sky did pretty much did everything else. They have an emotional, tender quality to their music, even when it gets aggressive. I didn't want the score to be overly aggressive, I wanted it to be haunting and emotional. Steve Jablonsky came in at the end to do something more traditional, but when Steve does "traditional", it's not the usual strings. He created a wonderful sound at the very end." The motion picture soundtrack album was released on December 17, 2013 by record label Metropolis Movie Music.
While based on true events, a number of historical inaccuracies in the film have been noted.
The number of Taliban fighters involved in the ambush has been widely disputed. In Marcus Luttrell's original after-action report, he stated that he and his teammates were attacked by 20–35 insurgents, while his book places the number at over 200. The screenplay describes "A solid line of at least fifty Taliban in firing positions on top of the hill above them." The summary of action for Lt. Murphy's posthumous Medal of Honor describes the enemy force as numbering "more than 50," while the official citation puts the number at "between 30 and 40 enemy fighters." In his book, Victory Point: Operations Red Wings and Whalers – the Marine Corps' Battle for Freedom in Afghanistan, military journalist Ed Darack cites a military intelligence report stating the strength of the Taliban force to be 8–10. The military intelligence estimate cited by Darack is based on research sourced from intelligence reports, including aerial and eyewitness studies of the battlefield after the fact, including the men sent in to rescue Luttrell, as well as reports from Afghan intelligence.
The number of casualties incurred by the Taliban fighters has also been disputed. Naval Special Warfare Command has estimated that Luttrell and his teammates killed around thirty-five insurgents during the battle. Andrew MacMannis, a former Marine Colonel who was involved in planning Operation Red Wings and assisted in recovering bodies after the mission, has stated that there were no known enemy casualties. Mohammad Gulab, the Afghan villager who rescued Luttrell, agrees with MacMannis, as does another Marine who was involved with the mission, Patrick Kinser, who has said, "I've been at the location where [Luttrell] was ambushed multiple times. I've had Marines wounded there. I've been in enough firefights to know that when shit hits the fan, it's hard to know how many people are shooting at you. [But] there weren't 35 enemy fighters in all of the Korengal Valley [that day]." Furthermore, Gulab has claimed that he found Luttrell with eleven magazines of ammunition - the full amount that Luttrell had brought on the mission.
In the film, the four-man SEAL reconnaissance team is discovered by three goat herders—an elderly man and two teenage boys. In fact, Luttrell wrote in his book that only one of the goat herders was a teenage boy, not two. Luttrell's book and the film both suggest that the SEALs decision to release the goat herders led to their subsequent ambush - yet according to Gulab, people throughout the area heard the SEALs being dropped off by helicopter, and the Taliban proceeded to track the SEALs footprints. Other villagers recounted to Gulab that the Taliban found the SEALs while the debate over the goat herders was taking place and that the Taliban then waited for a more opportune time to attack.
The film shows Luttrell (Wahlberg) being able to walk after the Taliban's ambush on the four-man SEAL team. In reality, Luttrell explained that his legs were numb immediately after the ambush, and when feeling did return to them, the pain from the shrapnel in his legs made it too painful to walk; he had to crawl seven miles looking for water and sanctuary. Luttrell also said that he did not witness the MH-47 Chinook helicopter being shot down, as seen in the film. At the end of the film, the Pashtun villagers fight off a Taliban attack in a firefight that never actually happened. In reality, the Taliban fighters were outnumbered by the villagers and had no intentions of attacking the village. They did, however, enter the room where Luttrell was being kept and physically beat him, before being pressured to leave by the village elder. Luttrell also did not go into cardiac arrest after he was rescued, nor was he near death, as seen in the film.
In his book, Luttrell erroneously claims that Ahmad Shah was "one of Osama bin Laden's closest associates". The film's production notes add to this mistake, calling Shah "a high-level al Qaeda operative". Shah was not actually a member of al Qaeda, nor did he know bin Laden. Rather, Shah was a local militia leader with ties to the Taliban. In the film, Shah is said to have killed twenty Marines in the week before Operation Red Wings. Although Shah did in fact participate in multiple attacks against U.S. forces prior to the events of Lone Survivor, there is no evidence to suggest that he had been responsible for the deaths of any American service-members. Only five Marines had died in combat in the entire war up to that point, and only two U.S. service-members were killed in Kunar Province in the months leading up to Operation Red Wings.
Berg first screened Lone Survivor to a number of professional American football teams to generate a strong word-of-mouth for the film. He expressed that the screenings were not a marketing ploy, explaining that it was "just a cool thing to do." Lone Survivor was screened to the Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Carolina Panthers, and Cleveland Browns as well as the University of Alabama Crimson Tide football team. The film received a generally positive response from several football players who took to social media to praise the film. A gala premiere screening of Lone Survivor was held during the AFI Film Festival at the TCL Chinese Theatre on November 12, 2013. Lone Survivor held its red carpet premiere on December 3, 2013 at the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York City, where the film received a standing ovation. The premiere also doubled as a tribute to the fallen servicemen of Operation Red Wings; in addition to several cast and crew members, Marcus Luttrell and family members of the deceased were in attendance. Mohammad Gulab, the Afghan villager who helped rescue Luttrell, also attended the premiere, marking his first time in New York City and in a movie theatre.
In what the film industry calls a "platform release", Lone Survivor was released in a small number of theaters before opening wide in other countries; it opened in New York and Los Angeles on December 25, 2013 before being released across North America on January 10, 2014. Entertainment One Films distributed the film in Canadian markets. Buena Vista International released it in the Philippines on January 8, 2014.
Lone Survivor's limited release in the United States saw it take $153,839—an average of $45,436 per theater—in its first five days. The film grossed an additional $326,685 on the following weekend. Pre-release tracking estimated that Lone Survivor would gross between $17 and $28 million during its opening weekend of wide release. Released to a total of 2,875 theaters in the United States and Canada, The film grossed $14,403,750 on its opening day, and by the end of its opening weekend it had grossed $38,231,471, securing the number one position at the North American box office. Lone Survivor's opening-weekend gross made it the second-largest debut for any film released widely in January, after Cloverfield (2008), which opened with $40.1 million. It had also become the highest-grossing film among recent "post-9/11 war films", surpassing Brothers (2009), which ended its North American theatrical run with over $28.5 million.
The film saw a significant drop in attendance during its second weekend of wide release; it had earned $6,665,470, which was a 135.4% increase from its opening Friday. However, by the end of its second weekend, the film earned $25,929,570, a 41.7% overall decrease from the previous weekend. As a result, Lone Survivor went from first to second place behind the action-comedy film Ride Along. The film remained in second place during its third weekend, grossing an additional $12,900,960, which was a 41.5% decrease from its second weekend. It grossed an additional $7,096,330 during its fourth weekend, moving to fifth place in the top 10 rankings. Lone Survivor remained in fifth place during its fifth weekend, grossing an additional $5,565,860, which was a 21.6% decrease from the previous weekend. By its sixth weekend, the film went from fifth place to ninth, earning $4,086,435. By its seventh weekend, Lone Survivor had dropped out of the top ten, earning an additional $1,978,380. Lone Survivor completed its theatrical run in North America on April 10, 2014 after 107 days (15.3 weeks) of release.
Lone Survivor grossed $125,095,601 in the United States and Canada; coupled with its international take of $29,707,311, the film accumulated $154,802,912 in worldwide box office totals. Outside of North America, the film's biggest markets were in Australia, the United Kingdom, Spain, Japan, France, South Korea, and Germany; the film grossed approximately $3.5 million in Australia, $3.4 million in the United Kingdom, $2.5 million in Spain, $2.2 million in Japan, $1.5 million in France, $1.2 million in South Korea, and $1 million in Germany. In North America, Lone Survivor is the 24th-highest-grossing film of 2013, and the sixth-highest-grossing R-rated film of that year.
Lone Survivor was released on Blu-ray and DVD on June 3, 2014 by Universal Pictures Home Entertainment in the United States, and by Entertainment One in Canada. On August 9, 2016, it had a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release in the United States and in the UK on September 26, 2016. In the United Kingdom, the film was released on both home video formats on June 9, 2014.
Lone Survivor received "largely positive reviews" from film critics, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The Los Angeles Times reported the critics' consensus was that "the film succeeds in bringing the mission to life, although it avoids probing the deeper issues at hand." Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes sampled 214 reviews, and gave the film an approval rating of 76%, with an average score of 6.6/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "A true account of military courage and survival, Lone Survivor wields enough visceral power to mitigate its heavy-handed jingoism." Another review aggregator, Metacritic, assigned the film a weighted average score of 60 out of 100, based on 44 reviews from mainstream critics, indicating to be "mixed or average reviews". CinemaScore polls conducted during Lone Survivor's opening weekend of wide release reported that male and female audiences gave the film a rare "A+" (on an A+ to F scale), with exit polls showing that 57% of the audience was male, while 57% was at least 30 years of age or older.
Justin Chang, writing for Variety magazine, gave the film a positive review and called it "the most grueling and sustained American combat picture since Black Hawk Down, as well as a prime example of how impressive physical filmmaking can overcome even fundamental deficiencies in script and characterization." Alonso Duralde, writing for The Wrap, stated, "The film never makes a grand statement about whether or not the war in Afghanistan is, per se, a mistake, but it does portray war itself as a disgusting folly. Berg sets up the cathartic moments we're used to in movies like this, but then he pulls out the rug, reminding us that the cavalry doesn't always miraculously show up in time to save the day." Todd McCarthy, writing for The Hollywood Reporter, described the film as being "rugged, skilled, relentless, determined, narrow-minded and focused, everything that a soldier must be when his life is on the line," while Scott Bowles of USA Today called Lone Survivor "brutal, unrelenting and ultimately moving." Leonard Maltin described the film as "visceral", while praising Berg, the main actors, and the stunt performers for successfully reenacting the events of Operation Red Wings. Maltin concluded that the film "is a tough movie but a rewarding one. It's humbling to watch this dramatization of the sacrifices these men make, without hesitation. Peter Berg was determined to do justice to them, and he has succeeded." Betsy Sharkey, writing for The Los Angeles Times, praised the overall look of the film: "The production and costume designers have paid a great deal of attention to the details, from the uniforms and tribal robes, to the bullet wounds and blood. It certainly adds to the film's verisimilitude."
Several reviewers criticized Lone Survivor for focusing more on its action scenes than on characterization. In his review for The Star-Ledger, Stephen Whitty wrote, "This is the sort of bare-bones story that well served plenty of World War II movies once, and it would work here, if Berg had the sense to develop these men as characters, first. But we don't really get to know any of them, or what they might bring personally to this life-or-death emergency." Rafer Guzman of Newsday wrote, "The movie seems more concerned with military-style action than with telling us who these fallen heroes really were."
One of the film's strongest detractors was Time Out magazine's Keith Uhlich, who called the film "war porn of the highest order". Geoff Pevere wrote in his review for The Globe and Mail, "The sensation of being pinned down and shot apart is so harrowingly conveyed ... that one almost forgives the movie's failure to be quite as persuasive in almost every other respect." While praising the film for its visuals and sound effects, as well as Berg's atmospheric direction, Kyle Smith of the New York Post gave Lone Survivor a mixed review. Smith concluded his review by describing it as "a movie about an irrelevant skirmish that ended in near-total catastrophe, during a war we are not winning." Film critic Steven Boone, writing for Roger Ebert's website, compared the film's violence to that of Mel Gibson's 2004 film The Passion of the Christ: "What's in between amounts to The Passion of the Christ for U.S. servicemen: a bloody historic episode recounted mainly in images of hardy young men being ripped apart, at screeching volume. Though Berg's source material isn't the New Testament, he often handles Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell's account ... with the thunderous reverence Mel Gibson brought to Christ's crucifixion and resurrection."
Lone Survivor received various awards and nominations, in categories ranging from recognition of the film itself to its screenplay, direction, stunts, and sound editing, to the performance of its lead actor, Mark Wahlberg. Lone Survivor received two Academy Award nominations for Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing, although the film failed to win either; at the 86th Academy Awards, the film lost in both categories to Gravity. In addition to the following list of awards and nominations, the film was named one of the ten best films of 2013 by the Las Vegas Film Critics Society, who also ranked it as the Best Action Film of 2013.
Awards and nominationsEdit
|List of awards and nominations|
|Award||Category||Recipient(s) and nominee(s)||Result|
|86th Academy Awards||Best Sound Editing||Wylie Stateman||Nominated|
|Best Sound Mixing||Andy Koyama, Beau Borders and David Brownlow||Nominated|
|2013 Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards||Best Action Film||Won|
|Cinema Audio Society Awards||Outstanding Achievement in Sound Mixing – Motion Picture – Live Action||David Brownlow, Andy Koyama, Beau Borders, Satoshi Mark Noguchi, Gregory Steele, Nerses Gezalyan||Nominated|
|19th Critics' Choice Awards||Best Action Film||Won|
|Best Actor in an Action Movie||Mark Wahlberg||Won|
|20th Screen Actors Guild Awards||Best Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture||Won|
|Motion Picture Sound Editors Golden Reel Awards||Best Sound Editing: Sound Effects & Foley in a Feature Film||Wylie Stateman||Nominated|
|Best Sound Editing: Dialogue & ADR in a Feature Film||Wylie Stateman||Nominated|
|18th Satellite Awards||Best Adapted Screenplay||Peter Berg||Nominated|
|Writers Guild of America Awards||Best Adapted Screenplay||Peter Berg||Nominated|
|40th Saturn Awards||Best Action or Adventure Film||Nominated|
|Best Director||Peter Berg||Nominated|
|Best Make-up||Howard Berger, Janie Kelman and Peter Montagna||Nominated|
|2014 Teen Choice Awards||Choice Movie Actor: Action||Mark Wahlberg||Nominated|
- The 9th Company, a 2005 Russian war film
- Afghan Breakdown, a 1990 Russian war film
- Black Hawk Down, a 2001 American war film
- List of films featuring the United States Navy SEALs
- Survival film, about the film genre, with a list of related films
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