The serviceable documentary “Murph: The Protector” could hardly fail to be an emotionally potent experience. It’s an account of the sacrifice of Navy SEAL Lt. Michael Murphy, the Medal of Honor winner who exposed himself to enemy fire in 2005 in order to call for backup during the fateful Operation Red Wings in Afghanistan. Director-producer Scott Mactavish uses straightforward talking-head interviews with family members and friends to evoke the extraordinary focus and courage Murphy seems to have been born with. Having recently received an Oscar-qualifying berth on single New York and Los Angeles screens, “Murph” should have a solid ancillary run as a complement to Peter Berg’s star-studded dramatic version of the Red Wings op, “Lone Survivor” (with Taylor Kitsch as Murphy), which Universal opens Dec. 27.
A few homemovie clips of Murphy’s high-school sports triumphs, and an array of snapshots, serve as illustrations. The film is of inconsistent visual and sound quality, and the interviews are at times redundant, going back over events from multiple points of view. But it would be churlish to complain too much about technical shortcomings when the interview at hand is a mother describing her feelings on the day four men in uniform knocked on the door of the Murphy family home.
A more serious limitation is a lack of detail about the mission Murphy and his fellow SEALs were pursuing. We’re told here only that Murph and three others were ordered to get “eyes on” an anti-coalition enclave in an isolated mountainous area. Online sources suggest that Red Wings’ objective was “the disruption of Anti-Coalition Militia (ACM) activity in the region,” an activity more aggressive than a recon mission alone. It is clear, in any event, that the SEALs were spotted and surrounded by a superior force, and that Murphy had to leave the shelter of the rocks in order to get a clear enough radio signal to send out a distress call.
Marcus Luttrell, the only one of the four to make it out alive (and whose book, co-authored with Patrick Robinson, served as the basis for “Lone Survivor”) is mentioned in George W. Bush’s 2007 Medal of Honor speech about Murphy, which is shown here. But, even though he is described as one of Murphy’s closest friends, the only living eyewitness to Operation Red Wings does not appear in this docu. And no wonder, given that Murphy’s father has been quoted as saying that the book dishonors his son’s memory. At issue is a passage suggesting that team leader Murphy considered executing some unarmed civilians who stumbled upon the SEAL camp, and that he put the suggestion to a vote. There is no mention of this dispute in “Murph: The Protector.”