Movie Review: Lone Survivor

Movie Review: Lone Survivor

War makes way for a Navy SEAL's story of faith and survival

By Mark HadleyWednesday 19 Feb 2014MoviesReading Time: 3 minutes

War is one of those horrific human conditions that simultaneously brings out the best and worst in our species. Consequently every conflict has its tales of courage and infamy, and in that sense Lone Survivor is just the latest legend to emerge from the conflict in the Middle East. However this story adds one spiritual element that has seldom been acknowledged in recent years.

 'Lone Survivor' tells a gritty true story of faith and survival.

Lone Survivor is the true story of an operation carried out by SEAL Team 10 in 2005 to locate and kill a Taliban leader. Based on the book by the same name it particularly focuses on the role of author Marcus Luttrell the hospital corpsman and sniper of the four-man reconnaissance team. When three Afghani shepherds stumble upon the SEALs observation post the soldiers are faced with a difficult decision: execute the civilians and preserve their cover or set them free and risk exposure. They decide to abide by the Rules Of Engagement that protect unarmed civilians, and as a consequence find themselves trapped by an overwhelming force of Taliban fighters hours later. The battle that ensues results in the deaths of three SEALs, leaving Luttrell to fight his way out of hostile territory. However in the end his survival has more to do with the compassion of a single villager than years of specialized training.

Lone Survivor has much in common with other conflict dramas like Black Hawk Down – gritty teamwork, determined loyalty and inspiring self-sacrifice. The feature opens with real footage of the brutal training prospective Navy SEALs undergo, the narration leaving you in no doubt of the caliber of the men involved:

“Winning here is a conscious decision. You prove to your bodies through your minds you can go further than you thought. Whatever you have to do, just find an excuse to win.”

However the bravest figure of the film is not a US soldier but the Afghani villager who decides to take a wounded Luttrell in and honour his commitment to hospitality even in the face of Taliban threats. This is where you might think to locate Lone Survivor’s spiritual backbone – one of King David’s Psalms certainly celebrates the character of a man, “… who keeps an oath even when it hurts.”   But sadly the film version of Lone Survivor neglects this wounded SEAL’s most significant sacred support.

While recounting his fight for survival in his book Marcus Luttrell regularly refers to the tangible, spiritual presence that kept him going. Isolated, under attack, crawling for seven miles because his legs no longer functioned, Luttrell writes that he still knew God hadn’t abandoned him.

Hope 103.2 is proudly supported by

“It was all I had, just a plaintive cry to God Who was with me, but Whose ways were becoming unclear to me … I kept repeating the Twenty-Third Psalm in my head, over and over, trying to stop myself from breaking down … ‘He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside still waters’ … That’s how far I was in the prayer when I heard the water for the first time.”  

Luttrell’s account contains a fair amount of the jingoism and language you’d expect from a hard service life. But it also regularly refers to the Christian faith that kept him on track. Sadly, what amounts to both the means for his survival and the most helpful factor for viewers, is completely edited out of the film.

There are questions regarding both the accuracy of Luttrell’s account – the number of Taliban insurgents encountered that day – and the film’s adaptation – the extent to which Afghani villagers fought to keep the SEAL alive. One fact remains unquestioned, at least from Marcus’ perspective. God was the one who saw this hero through. 

Rating: M
Distributor: Disney 
Release Date: February 20