A new film, Lone Survivor, an action-drama starring Mark Wahlberg, Eric Bana, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster, tells the story of that operation and the four Navy SEALs sent on a covert mission in 2005 to neutralize a high-level al-Qaeda operative. While hiding out, they come across some shepherds and debate whether to kill them in order to maintain their secret position. Within an hour of letting them go, the SEALs are ambushed by the Taliban enemy in the mountains of Afghanistan and surrounded.Written and directed by Peter Berg, and based on The New York Times best-selling memoir, Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10, by sole-surviving SEAL Marcus Luttrell (played by Wahlberg), the film details the sequence of events and examines themes of heroism, courage and survival in a hostile landscape.
"I read the book and felt it was this great combination of action along with some really strong plot twists, particularly the moment when the SEALs are compromised and they have to debate the rules of engagement," says Berg. "And then at the end of the book, the way the surviving SEAL develops a relationship with the local Afghan villagers who save his life, is just remarkable, and it was just obvious to me that it would make a really gripping film."
The director says he’s well aware of the extra responsibility involved in retelling a true story with a living survivor. "I’m accountable to all the families of the SEALs who died in the operation, as well as the Navy SEAL community, at large," he notes. "I didn’t want it to turn into some Hollywood movie where a lot of license is taken with the facts. I wanted it to be as accurate as we could make it, and I wanted to make a film that really takes the audience into this remote battlefield where our soldiers are getting killed on a daily basis, and shows you what the reality of that war is like."
For Berg, the long-running conflict in Afghanistan, along with the war on terror, has left many Americans "desensitized and fatigued," he says. "Couple that with the accelerated news cycles and the sheer volume of information we get bombarded with every day about Syria or Egypt or Iraq or Somalia, and it’s hard for people to take a moment and really empathize with our troops who are laying their lives on the line, and to have a meaningful connection."
To make sure he painted an accurate picture, Berg did "a ton" of research and even went to Iraq and embedded with the SEALs for a month, near the Syrian border—"the only civilian to ever do that," he reports. "That gave me a comprehensive, complex sense of who these men actually are. Besides being very effective soldiers, I saw the dedication, charm, humor and even sweetness of these warriors. They’re pretty amazing people."
Berg may have started out as an actor in such shows and films as 21 Jump Street and Race for Glory, but it was when he moved behind the camera that his career really took off, thanks to hits like Hancock, The Kingdom and Friday Night Lights, which he also turned into the award-winning TV series of the same name. And on this film he once again teamed with cinematographer Tobias Schliessler, ASC, who shot Hancock, Friday Night Lights and Battleship. "We’ve worked together so much we’re really like brothers," notes Berg. "We have a great shorthand, and he’s a great camera operator, a great lighter and very fast. And we have a very complementary relationship. I tend to get impatient and he calms me down, so if I want to rush through a scene, he’s more methodical and will force me to slow down. So what I really value is his temperament."