Lone Survivor
This is a high-impact, emotionally-charged film that will have you waving the American flag in one hand and wielding a hanky in the other.
It’s based on the true story of a failed 2005 mission of Navy Seals in Afghanistan . They were given a mandate to “take out” a Taliban leader who was suddenly located in a remote mountain village. (These days, we would just send a drone, but that’s another story.)
We begin with chronicling all the incredibly difficult training that the Seals had to go through in order to even be called “Seals”: they were the toughest and the best-trained, and they would need every bit of both for this boondoggle.
The higher-ups explain the plan that would utilize helicopters both to land the recon patrol, and then, when they reported in a sighting confirmation, send in the rest of the unit. But the battle plan relied on perfect and instantaneous communication, which wasn’t always the case in the field. And it certainly did not take into account the possibility of being surprised by the superior manpower and firepower of the enemy.
The story is told from the point of view of “the lone survivor” of this fiasco, Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg). He considers his little recon platoon to be truly a band of brothers, which means that not only did they really have a bond with each other, they also had a tendency to debate how to proceed, rather than relying on the strict military hierarchy, and that dynamic, too, was also a factor in the series of mishaps leading up to the disaster.
Marcus and his buddies spot the Taliban leader they’re looking for, all right, but they can’t communicate with their base unit because they can’t get a signal in the mountains. So they decide to wait and hide and see if they can recover the frequency later, but while trying to be inconspicuous, they are discovered by some goat shepherds who are suspiciously supplied with a walkie-talkie. Yes, they are connected to the Taliban unit which these Americans were sent to combat.
And yet, the goat herders consist of one young man, one old man, and a boy. So what does our unit with a mission do, exactly? Let them go? Tie them up? Eliminate them as possible informants? Yes, there’s a language barrier, but there’s also a lot of debate among the soldiers. Everybody wants guidance from headquarters, but it’s not forthcoming. They’re going to have to figure this out on their own. So they finally decide to let the goat herders go, and try to climb to higher ground to find a better signal.
Well, that plan gets instantly trumped. The goat herders bring back the Taliban mountain fighters, and the stranded Americans still can’t get a signal. So now the firefight begins, and though our guys are brave and tough, they’re outnumbered and outgunned.
We already know there’s only one “lone survivor,” but it’s still difficult to watch how we get there. The story takes a bit of a left turn here, as Marcus, having stumbled on a creek and fallen in it, is found by a local villager who decides that this invokes his ancient hospitality code. (Think of Abraham and Lot , duty-bound to bring home strangers, attend to their needs, and protect them.)
Of course, the Taliban fighters are not impressed with the Good Samaritans, instead threatening their extinction for “aiding and abetting the enemy.” The battered and wounded Marcus doesn’t quite understand why they’re extending this kindness to him, but right about now he sure could use the hospitality, as he awaits his rescue by his comrades who may or may not make it out there to deliver him.
This film “tells it like it is” while trying not to have a political agenda, but, of course, we can’t help but consider the reasons for our military presence in Afghanistan in the first place. And, we can’t help but root for our fine soldiers demonstrating incredible bravery under fire. We’ll try to admire that without asking ourselves, “For what purpose?”
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving , Texas