Sunday, January 12, 2014

Former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell Didn't Want to Write 'Lone Survivor'

My oldest son and I just got back from seeing "Lone Survivor" down at the Irvine Spectrum 21.

Walking back to the car I said to my son, "That was good." And then we both looked at each other and said simultaneously, "Intense!" I thought that was a pretty good one-word summary of a combat film that's as good as any recent war movie. "Black Hawk Down" is probably the closest comparison to (the feeling you get with) "Lone Survivor," since the number of casualties is so high in what are, in both cases, botched raids for top targets of the U.S. military.

In any case, I'll probably put up a couple of entries on this movie. I read this interview with Marcus Luttrell at the Los Angeles Times last week, "'Lone Survivor' Marcus Luttrell's devotion to duty." He didn't want to write the book on which the movie is based, but he was ordered to by his superior officers, and he realized it was better he write it himself anyways, from the genuine first person perspective, than to have someone else write a screenplay for a film  that was going to be made one way or another.

From the Times:
It's impossible to understand fully what Luttrell experienced in the Afghanistan mountains in 2005, where he and three other SEALs were caught in a disastrous firefight against a much larger Taliban force that ultimately left 19 Americans dead. Luttrell wrote about the experience in his bestselling book, "Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10," which has just been made into the movie "Lone Survivor" by writer-director Peter Berg.

It was more than a little hard for Luttrell to recount his ordeal in print. "I didn't want to write the book. I'm a private person," he said of his memoir, co-written by Patrick Robinson. He was compelled to pen it, he said, by his superiors.

"It was the Navy's idea, not mine," the 38-year-old Luttrell said. "They felt the story needed to be set straight."

His commanding officers were equally assertive in recommending that he support a movie adaptation, which opened to solid reviews in New York and Los Angeles on Friday before expanding into national release Jan. 10.

"I didn't want to do a movie," Luttrell said. "But Hollywood was going to do it with or without us. That's what came across the wire."

So Luttrell personally auditioned Berg, the veteran of "Friday Night Lights" and "Battleship." At the time, the book was being devoured throughout the movie world, and producers were beseeching Luttrell for a meeting. Berg was wrapping up his 2007 Middle East terrorism tale, "The Kingdom," and invited Luttrell to take an early look.

Berg had prepared a detailed pitch for Luttrell, but soon after Luttrell watched Berg's film he decided he liked the director's attention to detail and was done looking for a show-business partner.

"It was the little things that most people would overlook," Luttrell said of how Berg depicted the military in "The Kingdom." "How people move tactically, how they handle their weapons, their communications — there was enough in there to show me he had the wherewithal to pull it off."

The mission at the center of Luttrell's story is both heart-stopping and heartbreaking.

Dropped by helicopter into Afghanistan's Kunar province near the Pakistan border, Luttrell and three other SEALs — Matthew Axelson, Danny Dietz and leader Michael Murphy — were pursuing a Taliban leader when three goat herders, including a young boy, stumbled upon them. The film stars Mark Wahlberg as Luttrell, Taylor Kitsch as Murphy, Emile Hirsch as Dietz and Ben Foster as Axelson.

The four SEALs agonized over their options, knowing they couldn't in good conscience kill the unarmed civilians, even as they were certain that if they released the trio they would alert the enemy, likely dooming Luttrell, Murphy, Axelson and Dietz. (If the SEALs tied up the three, they likely would have died from exposure or starvation.)

Within minutes of freeing the goat herders, the SEALs were stormed by the Taliban. Axelson, Dietz and Murphy were shot multiple times and died on the battlefield, while a rescue helicopter carrying 16 Special Operations Forces was downed by a rocket-propelled grenade, killing all on board. Luttrell managed to escape the firefight seriously wounded (his injuries included a broken back and bullet wounds) but able to walk, and was taken in by a Pashtun villager, who sheltered Luttrell until American forces were able to rescue him.

Berg said he felt compelled to tell Luttrell's story largely because the sacrifices and proficiency of U.S. armed forces are taken for granted. "If you were kidnapped overseas, these guys would do everything, and I mean dying if they have to, to get you out alive," the filmmaker said.

"We just can't really take a moment to think about it — we're totally disengaged. But 'Lone Survivor' forced me to engage in the reality of these deaths, and to pay attention to how our men are dying. We need to support and understand what they are doing and what they are going through."
Continue reading.

And here's Betsey Sharkey's review, "Review: Peter Berg's fierce 'Lone Survivor' captures realities of war."