Universal Moves Mark Wahlberg War Drama 'Lone Survivor' Into 2013 Oscar Race

EXCLUSIVE: Sensing it could have a strong year-end awards season contender, Universal has decided to platform its January 10th wide release of its Afghanistan war drama Lone Survivor with a 12/27 limited (LA/NY) debut. The shift will qualify the film for Oscars and other awards and get critical and audience word-of-mouth out there before the broader previously announced early 2014 release. Having seen the Peter Berg-directed true story in unfinished form, the move makes sense for a film that, despite unrelenting graphic violence that is hard to watch at times, really packs the kind of emotional punch that should play well with awards voters.

Coming off the box office disaster of Battleship, the movie represents a strong return to form for Berg that is more in line with what he did on 2004’s Friday Night Lights than the aforementioned 2012 bloated blockbuster. The film, which stars Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch, Eric Bana and Taylor Kitsch (who also finds redemption after facing critical brickbats for both John Carter and Battleship), is a riveting story of four Navy SEALs involved in an ill-fated  covert mission to thwart a high-level Taliban operative when they are ambushed by enemy forces in the Hindu Kush region of Afghanistan. Notwithstanding some of the most intense and realistic battle scenes in recent memory, it goes beyond the average war film in fleshing out real three-dimensional human beings caught up in the moral consequences of war, and in that way is more reminiscent of past Best Picture Oscar winners like Platoon (1986) and Universal’s own The Deer Hunter (1978). One  scene in particular is riveting to watch in which the SEALS, weighing their own chances of survival, collectively must decide if a small group of locals should live or die. Certainly the film presents moral dilemmas that will cause strong debate. It is based on the New York Times bestseller, Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account Of Operation Redwing And The Lost Heroes Of SEAL Team 10 by Marcus Luttrell (with Patrick Robinson), the Navy SEAL portrayed in the film by Wahlberg.

During the studio’s presentation at April’s Cinemacon, Universal Chairman Adam Fogelson told theater owners, “we have seen the first cut of (Peter Berg’s ) next film Lone Survivor and it is soulful, gritty, tough, emotional and, quite frankly, remarkable”.  Due to that “gritty” nature it is probably not the easiest of sells and will need that kind of unqualified studio backing to gain real traction in an awards race that is already shaping up as very competitive.

The studio, which was in the Oscar game last year with 8 nominations (including Best Picture) and 3 wins for Les Miserables, is currently planning its 2013 awards season which, in addition to the just-added Lone Survivor, is also likely to include director Ron Howard‘s auto racing drama, Rush, another real-life story depicting the 70’s track rivalry of Formula 1 drivers Niki Lauda and James Hunt. Despite top tech credits (it was brilliantly shot by Slumdog Millionaire’s Oscar winner Anthony Dod Mantle) it really has more of the feel of an indie film for Howard, a real passion project that contains strong performances from Chris Hemsworth and particularly Daniel Bruhl as Lauda. It definitely could be a contender in several categories.  A September 20th release, Universal will likely – and should –  first take this somewhere on the Fall fest circuit, probably Toronto.

  1. If the movie is half as good as listening to Marcus Luttrell tell his story for an hour on the radio, than it will be amazing.

  2. If only they told the ACTUAL story with the Pashtun herder who helped Marcus, instead of omitting the most important character from his book due to ‘who cares about the brown guy syndrome’.

    1. Ali Suliman (The Kingdom) credited on imdb as Gulab. Perhaps Universal should go all in for a best supporting actor nomination.

    2. Have you seen the movie? Do you know they have left out a character?
      A little early to play the race card, isn’t it?

  3. Universal don’t have a serious contender outside of Rush so they’ve decided to push this one more out of hope than anything else. They screened Rush at the Berlin Buyers market earlier this year and even that’s not a sure thing if the field shapes up to be a strong one.

    1. And Marky Mark in Scorcese’s THE DEPARTED. Marky Mark in the films of David O’Russell, James Gray, and Paul Thomas Anderson. Marky Mark successfully producing shows like BOARDWALK EMPIRE and ENTOURAGE. Not to mention Marky Mark as a 41-year-old father and husband.

      In other words, if you’re making a joke, it’s stale and stupid.

      1. He was great in the underrated THREE KINGS as well…or even that Army basic training comedy with Danny Devito.

      2. Thank you Grown Up. Obviously kyle S has not a clue. However, I do shout out Marky Mark in a loving and excited way when I see him unexpectedly. I am very thrilled to see him in any film, and when his name is attached to a project he’s not staring in, I always give it a look as I know his level of quality. He has turned into an amazing actor, producer and human being.

      3. Exactly. Mark Wahlberg has become a very good actor. Other than the fact that he is much shorter than Marcus Luttrell, I think he will do a good job. I know Marcus and Peter Berg became pretty good friends so I am wondering if Marcus had any kind of approval or input in who was chosen to play him.

        By the way Kyle S—just because you are the same person and as immature as you were as a teenager you should not ASSume everyone is. Fact is, most people are not so you are in the minority. You really should try to grow the hell up.

  4. So, will the action stop for 20 minutes while Luttrell tells us all how much the liberal media hates the military and America?
    Because it wouldn’t be true to the story of Luttrell if that didn’t happen. Don’t believe me? Read the book.

    1. would seem prudent to me that if you were not in a war and watched your friends die then be near death many times yourself, you should probably STFU about the politics of war.

      If you didn’t agree with what was written, or if you didn’t like reading it, all you had to do was put the book down. But you liberals are all alike—ANY excuse to spout off, especially when you don’t have a clue what you are talking about.

      PS__Why don’t you tell us about YOUR experiences during the war, or your military service in general?
      What? YOU didn’t serve??? TYPICAL!
      Now, STFU!!!!

      The book was an amazing read–from the account of what candidates go through to become SEALS to their mission and his survival. I couldn’t put it down even during the third time I read it.

      1. I agree the book was amazing. I think Marcus put his heart and soul on every page. Let’s just hope the movie conveys the emotions of that book.

      2. NONkool I could not agree with you more, I am so tired of arm chair quarterbacks talking smack about something they have no clue about. Until you have come under attack by either sniper fire, rocket, mortar or RPG where all you can do is hit the deck cover your neck and make yourself as small as possible praying that you survive the next 5 minutes then you have nothing to contribute to a post like this, I remember Easter Sunday April 18th 2008 being on LZ Washington (about size of a pro basketball court in Baghdad when we were hit with 18 rockets in less then 10 minutes), or FOB Shank in Eastern Afghanistan which is the most attacked base over here where you are attacked almost everyday – if 2 days go by without an attack you get worried because something big is going to happen – last summer we went 4 days then were hit with a VBID that breached a 25 foot hole in our hesco (exterior wall) from 1,400 lbs of explosives hidden in a cement truck. I have lost 11 people in the last 6 years (2 years in Iraq and am hitting my 4 year mark in Afghanistan) so all I can say to those is STFU

  5. Anyone who has been downrange knows Marcus is the man. Hope the movie reflects the reality.

  6. Actually you gotta figure it’s pretty good. Berg’s Battleship is like a scarlet letter for Uni and now they’re going all in on his follow up? Not to mention it’s a neg pick up for them as well. why go thru the trouble if it;’s not worth it.

  7. I’ve known Marcus since I was 10, there isn’t a better man and for you to say anything even remotely negative about him means you haven’t ever met him. So until you meet him STFU!!

  8. The movie was made really on the cheap. It could have been easily made in the mouentains of San Bernadino. But since Tax Incentive saving forced them to a 3rd rate location. I gotta believe Production Design Set Dressing sells the movie. Of course actors performance goes without saying if it is there. But 21 producers didn’t take the heat, dust, tarantulas, snakes, and awful working conditions to create a location. But they will create a stampede to the podium for
    best picture, if nominated. And if they didnt have all those producers could they save the money and film in California. This one is from the creatives of the movie. Certainly not money people and hanger ons. Go Pete you really wanted to make this movie. Sounds great

  9. Are you serious?!?! Those were incredibly brave men who lost their lives to protect our freedoms! Don’t you dare criticize them! Until you put your life on the line there is no way that you can say anything about Marcus Luttrell or anything he has to say!!! By the way… He speaks the truth!!

  10. It is true that ML editorializes in his book – and he clearly feels very strongly about the role of the media in politics. It is also true that I probably disagree with his politics. But, I DO NOT DISAGREE with this integrity, courage, and commitment. Luttrell is a true hero and and a man of great and sincere conscience. I have nothing but respect and admiration for him. In point of fact, the media does have too much influence over politicians. So there are things we do agree on.

    ML is a hero. Period.

  11. I’m so glad to hear that the movie is getting a good buzz. How my brother, Dan, Mike Murphy’s Dad, and Maureen, Mikes mom is going to be able to sit and watch this is a wonder to me. Myself? Don’t think so.

    1. To Brian Murphy:
      I wish I could shake your hand and all of Mike’s family. What a legacy he left! I can understand why watching the movie would be hard, if not impossible. For me, I will gather all of my family and friends and insist they watch it. I just hope the movie honors Mike and the other brave heroes the way they should be honored. The world would be such a better place if everyone had a fraction of the courage and integrity those men had.

  12. Can’t wait to see Adam Sandberg impersonate Walberg’s performance: “Hey, whatchya doin’ there goat? Grazing for some food? Say hi to your mother for me.”

  13. I loose it every time I think of this story. Amazing book & an ever greater depiction of what it feels like to the people that mean the most to u. I have been down range, saw my best friends lives just dwindle away on the fog of war. It’s tough, actually sucks in so many ways. Marcus is humble, does not tell the story for accolades but because it needs to be told to exploit the bravery of those that have suffered the ultimate sacrifice. This is a movie our country needs as long as it stays true to reality. God bless our troops & the families that support & love them. Trust me, we need that love & support….it’s very hard to be a compassionate human after u have experienced the ultimate sacrifice.

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