On a mountainside in the wild of Afghanistan, four Navy SEALs fight for their lives. This is the central situation of "Lone Survivor," a movie based on a memoir by the same name. Former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell has lived this drama and is the lone survivor of the title. His story is of personal tragedy and triumph with a backdrop of the failed SEAL mission to capture or kill a top Taliban leader, Ahmad Shah. Writer-director Peter Berg has been working in this project since reading the book in 2007.
Peter Berg adapted the book for film. He started out by visiting the families of the SEALs who lost their lives on that Afghan mountainside. According to the production notes, Berg said, "After spending time with them, you realize that these kids... 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 sought further depth in the writing when sole survivor, Marcus Luttrell, moved into his home for a month. Finally, in early 2010, Berg spent a month in the Middle East at a desert base with a SEAL platoon. These experiences helped him craft as realistic a script as possible.
The movie was filmed in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico. The Sangre de Cristos were meant to simulate the Hindu Kush range between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Stunt coordinator Kevin Scott was hired to depict the four SEALs fighting on and falling down the 60-degree incline. He made the surprising move of not choreographing the stunts, telling performers to jump, land however and "go with it." The point was to capture how the servicemen actually fought and fell, which of course, was not choreographed. This mountain shooting captured that feeling of having no control on a mountainside.
Actors' Military Training
"Lone Survivor" stars Mark Wahlberg as Luttrell, with Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster as his platoon-mates. While none of them are former military, they all underwent intense physical training prior to filming. For instance, Kitsch did high-intensity workouts that included runs with a 40-pound weighted vest. Additionally, just prior to filming, actors participated in an intense, three-week boot camp in New Mexico. They learned to shoot weapons, communicate in battle and perform military tactics. They even participated in live-fire exercises, realistic battle scenarios with live weapons. The intent was to further familiarize the actors with the realities of military battles.
Even though Berg already had a realistic, in-depth script, he continued his reach for authenticity with on-set advisers. Berg has often used war veterans to advise on his films, and he kept up that tradition. Senior military advisor Harry Humphries was an associate producer for the film. Humphries is a former Navy SEAL. Marcus Luttrell himself and several retired SEALs served as technical advisers. Luttrell also worked with costume designer Amy Stofsky to ensure that the costuming accurately reflected the uniforms of the time, which are no longer in production. Berg even secured autopsy reports of the fallen SEALs so that special effects supervisor Bruno van Zebroeck could replicate the injuries the SEALs suffered.
"Lone Survivor" was first viewed by professional football players. Several football teams, including the Carolina Panthers, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys and Denver Broncos, received the first viewing of the movie. These screenings accompanied team-building exercises for the players. They were also accompanied by wide social media publicity for the film. The film was screened publicly during the American Film Institute Film Festival at TCL Chinese Theatre on November 12, 2013. The film's red-carpet premiere happened December 3, 2013, at New York City's Ziegfeld Theatre, where it received a standing ovation. The film opened for a limited release in New York and Los Angeles on December 27, 2013. This release renders "Lone Survivor" eligible for Academy Award nominations.
"Lone Survivor" has received generally positive reviews. Though some critics question elements of the script, everyone universally agrees that the themes of patriotism, courage and sacrifice come through loud and clear. In fact, critic A.O Scott of "The New York Times" remarked on its professionalism and praised that the movie does a good job "of explaining how the job was done." The film has won the 2013 Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards for Best Action Film and Top 10 Films of the Year. North American release is set for January 10, 2014.