Lone Survivor is a 2013 American biographical war thriller film based on the 2007 non-fiction book of the same name by Marcus Luttrell with Patrick Robinson. Set during the war in Afghanistan, the film dramatizes the unsuccessful United States Navy SEALs counter-insurgent mission Operation Red Wings, during which a four-man SEAL reconnaissance and surveillance team was tasked to track down and kill Taliban leader Ahmad Shah. Written and directed by Peter Berg, it stars Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster, and Eric Bana.
In Afghanistan, Taliban leader Ahmad Shah is responsible for killing over twenty United States Marines, as well as villagers and refugees who were aiding American forces. In response to these killings, a United States Navy SEALs unit is ordered to execute a counter-insurgent mission to capture Shah. As part of the mission, a four-man SEAL reconnaissance and surveillance team is tasked with locating Shah. These four SEALs include team leader Michael P. “Murph” Murphy; snipers Marcus Luttrell and Matthew Axelson; and communications specialist Danny Dietz.
The team is inserted into the Hindu Kush region of Afghanistan, where they make a trek through the mountains. Here, they begin to encounter communications problems, which will play a critical role in the following events. Upon arriving at their designated location, the SEALs are accidentally discovered by an elderly shepherd and two teenage goat herders. Knowing that if they release them, the herders will likely alert Taliban to their presence, the team is split about whether to kill the herders or not. After a brief debate, Luttrell convinces the others that they will incite backlash if they kill the three herders. The team decides to release them and abort the mission, but before they can escape, they are discovered by Taliban forces. Although they manage to kill several Taliban soldiers, they find themselves heavily outnumbered and at a significant tactical disadvantage. Each of the men suffers serious injuries during the firefight and, in an attempt to flee from the insurgents, they jump off the edge of a precipitous ridge and into a large ravine.
Despite their injuries, the SEALs made a defensive retreat through the steep woods. Dietz begins to lose consciousness and shouts questions to Luttrell, unwittingly revealing the team’s position to the Taliban. Murphy and Axelson jump off another ridge to flee from the Taliban fighters. Luttrell tries to carry Dietz down the mountain, but Dietz is shot in the shoulder; the impact forces Luttrell to lose his grip and fall forward off the cliff. A dying Dietz remains at the top of the cliff and is killed by the Taliban insurgents. Murphy decides to try climbing back up the cliff to get a phone signal in order to call in support forces via satellite phone. Axelson and Luttrell shoot at the Taliban fighters to provide Murphy with cover. When he finally reaches higher ground, Murphy is able to alert the SEAL base of his team’s location and request emergency assistance right before he is shot dead by Taliban fighters.
In response to Murphy’s distress call, a quick reaction force team assembles, boards two CH-47 Chinook helicopters, and heads toward the location without gunship escort seeking to extract the remaining members of the reconnaissance and surveillance team. During an attempt to insert the arriving forces, the Taliban insurgents shoot down one of the helicopters, killing eight Navy SEALs and eight Special Operations aviators who were on board. The second helicopter is forced to turn back. After witnessing the attack, Luttrell and a badly injured Axelson are left behind. Axelson attempts to find cover, but is killed when he leaves his hiding spot to attack several approaching insurgents. When Luttrell is discovered by the Taliban, one of the insurgents fires a rocket-propelled grenade, and its impact causes him to land at the bottom of a rock crevice where he is able to hide from the Taliban fighters.
Luttrell stumbles upon a small body of water and submerges himself, only to find upon surfacing that a local Pashtun villager, Mohammad Gulab, has discovered his location. Gulab takes Luttrell into his care, returning to his village, where he attempts to hide Luttrell in his home. Gulab then sends a mountain man to the nearest American air base to alert military forces to Luttrell’s location. The Taliban fighters arrive at the village to capture and kill Luttrell, but Gulab and the villagers intervene, threatening to kill the fighters if they harm Luttrell. The fighters leave, but later return to punish the villagers for protecting Luttrell. Gulab and his fellow militia are able to fend off several fighters during the ensuing attack. American forces, arriving via helicopters, shatter the advancing Taliban and, in the process, kill the bulk of the insurgents with concentrated weaponry fire. The American forces evacuate Luttrell back to base.