Friday, January 10, 2014
Adapted from retired Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell's memoir, the film recounts a military operation called Operation Red Wings that went terribly wrong in June 2005. As the film's title indicates, Marcus Luttrell was the only survivor in his team during that operation and 19 marines were killed.
The film opens at a military base in 2005 in Afghanistan. The marines goof around with their macho demeanors like living in a fraternity, including the initiation of a boyish looking Shane Patton (Alexander Ludwig). But quickly, they move into action. Lieutenant Commander Erik Kristensen (Eric Bana) lays out the plan to hunt a Taliban leader Ahmad Shah (Yousuf Azami) who allegedly killed 20 marines the week before. A group of four US Navy SEALs are airdropped into a nearby mountain close to a village where Ahmad Shah is spotted. Lieutenant Mike Murphy (Taylor Kitsch) is the leader of the small team, along with Petty Officer 1st Class Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), and Petty Officers 2nd Class Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) and Matt "Axe" Axelson (Ben Foster).
They are well-equipped and heavily armed. They are even able to take pictures of Ahmad Shah with their long-rang camera. However, their radio communication device is so ill-functioned as if this were the World War II.
Everything seems fine until three Afghani goatherds pass the spot where the marines are hiding out. They must make a difficult decision about the compromised operation, and that decision leads to a brutal fight when they are surrounded and outnumbered by Taliban fighters. They are forced into a courageous fight for survival.
A significant portion of the film shows detailed and gut-wrenching fight scenes. Director Peter Berg unapologetically brings us to the middle of the bullets and grenades. He brilliantly makes us feel what it's like to be in the middle of a battle ground. The film completely captures our attention with intense actions by these soldiers.
These SEALs are the best of the best, who successfully killed Osama bin Laden. But they are also human beings with loved ones back home. No matter how tough they are, they also have their limits. The film portrays them more as professional soldiers than as fighters for a cause. One of them says plainly to his girlfriend that he won't be available for two days because he's "gotta pay the bills."
Perhaps the film also takes these marines' approach when it deals with the story. It focuses more on the horrific war fighting itself, rather than the morality and rational behind the fight. In that aspect, the film delivers handsomely. There is one exception though during the discussion about the fate of the goatherds. Contrary to the US actions revealed in a superb documentary "Dirty Wars," ironically, these SEALs made a decision that caused their lives.
But when the family photos from the 19 fallen American soldiers appear on the screen at the end of the film, it's quite clear that no bill should have been paid with their lives. Enough is enough. Let's end the war now.