Marcus Luttrell has been working at an exhausting pace of late, making the rounds to promote the movie bearing the same title and storyline as his bestselling biography, Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10.
Not since The Passion of the Christ have I witnessed an audience so silently reverent at the end of a movie, where those exiting the theater gathered in small groups to discuss what they had seen rather than loudly racing for their cars in the theater parking lot. Much like the whipping scene in the aforementioned movie, director Peter Berg went to great lengths to immerse the audience in every tumble off the mountain and every bullet strike on the tree as an enemy gunman walks the rounds of his AK-47 to the violent finish of an American hero.
Honored that Marcus Luttrell and his wife, Melanie, would sit down with our Life of Duty/NRA American Warrior team for an interview, we used the opportunity to get a real sense of what the book, the movie and the experience of working on both has meant to him.
Contrary to the critical commentary of some within the media, the anti-military crowd and the jealous naysayers who arise with any project, Luttrell said that he
never had the slightest inkling or desire to write a book—or make a movie about it, for that matter. But with the U.S. military’s release of information regarding the mission and the declassification of findings related to Operation Red Wings, it became clear to Luttrell, the military and others that if he didn’t tell the story somebody would.
“The military came to me and said that getting it right was in the best interest of the Navy, myself and all parties,” Luttrell said. If he had his way, Luttrell would have remained a SEAL and gone about his business, serving with his brothers in arms. But a medical discharge for injuries he sustained in combat ended that possibility. The book came about only to ensure the accuracy of the story surrounding the sacrifice of his teammates and those killed while trying to rescue them.
Although the legal rights to the movie were established shortly after the book’s release, it still took several years to get it to the big screen. Luttrell worked hard to select people that would honor the story so masterfully laid out in the book with as little Hollywood exaggeration as possible. Of course, there were some deviations from the book and a little bit of creative license taken in a few areas of the movie to move the story along and condense an almost 400-page book into a two-hour movie. Those subtleties, however, do not discredit those who serve, those who died, or the truthful integrity of the story as a whole.
Keeping things accurate and authentic was critical to Luttrell, not only for the families of the fallen, but also to honor his brothers still serving. That same mindset was evident in the actions and words of every member of the cast and crew during filming, and even after its release.
Luttrell assisted director Berg with technical details about the event and even enlisted the support of former Navy SEALs to help deliver performances that were as real-life as they were riveting.
When you first meet Marcus Luttrell, you witness the same contradictions you find in most Navy SEALs—confident, unapologetic swagger tempered with humility and an inherent tendency to deflect attention. SEALs tend to be confident in their abilities and training, yet committed to the ethos of their profession as silent professionals. Most shun credit or attention paid to them even when it is well deserved—wanting either no focus on their community at all, or only upon those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice when the attention seems unavoidable, as it was with Luttrell and his team.
Marcus Luttrell is a “what you see is what you get” kind of guy. He is patient and respectful of questions asked in ignorance and naivety regarding his community and military service in general. But he is willing to directly confront those who confront him, or who call into question the sacrifice of those lost.
A true professional, Luttrell has weathered the critics, the naysayers and the media nitwits—those that want to suggest that the 19 men who died during Operation Red Wings died in vain, died for an unjust war or died for no good reason at all. Mystified by their stupidity and aggravated by the utter lack ofrespect they show for those sent into harms way, Luttrell can flip a switch when he is pushed by the dishonorable tone some take in connection to those who’ve died to make their mouthing off possible. Luttrell knows that some are simply blinded by various causes of their own and will never comprehend the measure of those who risk everything for the cause of liberty.
As for those who say the movie is a propaganda film or “pro-war,” Luttrell says, “I don’t even know what in the hell that means. It’s like people going to a movie about a bunch of firefighters and saying that the guys who battled the blaze were pro-fire. We are warriors sent to war to complete the mission of those who send us—we are not ‘instruments of war’ or ‘tools of propaganda.’”
When I asked Luttrell what message he wished people would get from reading the book or watching the movie, his one-word response spoke volumes to everyone on set.
“Nothing” he said. “The importance of sharing the truth and honoring my brothers was my only motive. What others glean from it, choose to believe or not, is up to them. I put the story out there, and people can take from it what they want.
“The hardest part of producing a movie like this,” Luttrell added, “is that there was no way to give complete justice and equal time to everyone involved and every branch of service that participated in my rescue.”
The overall reaction from those in his community has been very positive. The fact that the families of his fallen teammates approved is what has mattered most of all to Luttrell.
Lone Survivor is a movie full of self-debasing humor, acronyms, off-color jokes, and the things true American warriors say to one another out of love and respect. It is a story that shows the sacrifice and hard-hitting realities of life and death that warriors face.
When Luttrell came home and first visited the families of those who perished during this event, he was reluctant to share the details of exactly how their loved ones passed away. Who in their right mind would want to compound the grief of those wanting some sense of hope and justice that their husband, son or brother passed as quickly and painlessly as possible?
The movie clearly reveals what most over time have come to know: that death in combat is violent, frightening and often traumatic. Yet, if one line from the movie best sums up the feeling a warrior has as he stares into the face of death with his brothers on both his right and left, it has to be the words of Matt
Axleson as he asks Luttrell to tell others “that I died with a full heart.”
“What could be more worthy,” Luttrell asks, “than to die in a pile of spent brass with your boots on ... doing what you do best?”
Lone Survivor is a must-see movie for those who admire the sacrifice and courage of the warriors who serve this great nation. It is not a movie for the timid or the faint of heart. It is not for the handwringers or the head hiders who would rather bury all thought of war’s realities than face the real truth.
It’s a movie definitely deserving of much praise, told by a real American hero about real American heroes of the best kind!