Pete Berg embedded with Navy SEALs before making ‘Lone Survivor’
Writer-director Pete Berg considered putting his “Lone Survivor” cast — led by Mark Wahlberg — through the hard-core Navy SEAL training, not only to get his actors in the best fighting shape possible for a film set in the war in Afghanistan but also to shoot their efforts for the movie’s opening scenes.
But the filmmaker ultimately decided that the real person who needed to embed was himself, so Berg deployed in early 2010 with a SEAL platoon in Iraq near Syria’s border.
Berg’s experience proved influential in shaping his adaptation of Marcus Luttrell’s memoir, “Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10.” While Luttrell persuasively recounts the schooling of the U.S. military’s elite soldiers and recounts in vivid detail his small band’s harrowing and disastrous firefight against the Taliban in 2005, Berg’s monthlong sequestration showed him how the Navy commandos behave when they’re away from action.
“It really helped me get ready to write the screenplay,” said Berg. “These are really funny guys who love to joke. They are in love with their jobs and with each other and very clear-eyed about their jobs and their mission. I’ve never met guys more focused on doing their jobs as best as they could.”
In the case of “Lone Survivor,” opening in limited release Dec. 27, Luttrell’s mission was to join three other SEALs in a mountainous area near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Dropped by helicopter to take out a military leader in a remote village, the quartet is promptly discovered by several unarmed goat herders, including a child.
Knowing that the safest but most immoral thing to do would be to kill the civilians, Luttrell and his team (played by Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster and Emile Hirsch) decide instead to set the goat herders free, a choice that immediately brings waves of enemy fighters gunning for the U.S. soldiers.
As the title implies, Luttrell is the only one to make it out, but Berg, who postponed making “Lone Survivor” to direct the catastrophic “Battleship,” is less interested in how the SEALs died than in how they lived and how they fought.
Berg said that showing “Lone Survivor” to the families of those who died in the operation — a helicopter full of GIs sent to rescue Luttrell and his team also was shot down, killing all 16 aboard — was “the most emotional thing I’ve ever done.”
Said the director: “This has been an experience unlike anything else.”
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