By Matt McDaniel
Taylor Kitsch, Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster and Emile Hirsch in ‘Lone Survivor’ (Photo: Universal Pictures)
One of the problems with bringing a true story to the big screen is that the people who lived through the actual events are often not around to consult with the filmmakers to get the details right. That’s why it was so important for Marcus Luttrell to be involved with the making of the upcoming war drama “Lone Survivor.” He was the only man left to tell the story.
The film recreates Operation Red Wings, a four-man SEAL operation in Afghanistan in June 2005. Mark Wahlberg plays Luttrell, who was on a reconnaissance mission with his team when they were discovered by a small group of goatherds. Their position compromised, the SEALs allowed the civilians to go free; they then reported the team’s position to nearby Taliban forces.
The team came under heavy fire, and a grenade explosion sent Luttrell tumbling down a rocky hill. In the exclusive behind-the-scenes video below, Luttrell can be seen explaining the details of the firefight to director Peter Berg. “I took a fall,” Luttrell says. “[My] chest came up over my hips and I started flipping.” He was knocked unconscious, breaking his back, wrist, and nose along the way. “As the sun came up, I had enough. I’ll just engage until they kill me.”
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The three other SEALs in Luttrell’s team — Michael P. Murphy (played in the film by Taylor Kitsch), Danny Dietz (played by Emile Hirsch), and Matthew Axelson (played by Ben Foster) — were killed in the battle. When Luttrell came to, he was able to evade the Taliban fighters and find refuge with nearby Pashtun tribesmen who put themselves in danger to hide him until a rescue team could arrive.
Peter Berg, who has experience with both inspiring true stories (“Friday Night Lights”) and Middle Eastern intrigue (“The Kingdom”), says that both he and his cast understood the pressure they were under when telling a story that was both so emotional and so recent. “The actors knew they had a responsibility to capture that warrior spirit that these men had,” says Berg. And the filmmaker credits Luttrell with insuring the production was accurate. “He was going to make sure I understood what happened on that mountain,” Berg explains.
The real Marcus Luttrell (L) and Mark Wahlberg (Photo: Universal/Getty Images)
Luttrell, Dietz, and Axelson were each awarded the Navy Cross for their part in the battle. Lt. Murphy — who knowingly exposed his position to the enemy so he could call in for assistance — was awarded the Medal of Honor. He was the first person to receive the nation’s highest military honor for the war in Afghanistan.
Luttrell says, “When I started doing speaking tours, that was to keep the memory of my teammates alive.” He concludes that the movie adaptation of his book is the best way to get their story to the widest possible audience. He says, “No matter how many times I got up to tell that story, or how many people read that book, it’s nothing compared to how many people will watch that film. So my job is done.”
“Lone Survivor” opens in limited release on December 27, and nationwide on January 10.
The SEALs of Operation Red Wings (Marcus Luttrell is 3rd from the right) (Photo: US Navy/Getty)