Every soldier in each military branch undoubtedly has a riveting story he or she could share. Extend your scope to friends and family members of those who serve, and you’re sure to find countless stories of courage, adversity, tragedy and triumph. The challenge for any filmmaker wanting to convey the personal tales of our nation’s armed forces likely lies in finding a narrative as compelling, relatable and sentimental as the one told in “Murph: The Protector.”
“Murph” is the late Lt. Michael P. Murphy, a Navy SEAL killed in the line of duty who’s the central subject of Scott Mactavish’s stirring new documentary. The movie is being released in select Regal Cinemas theaters through a partnership with Mactavish Pictures, a company founded by the filmmaker, author and U.S. Navy veteran to tell “stories of honor, courage and commitment,” according to its Web site.
“Murph: The Protector” meets those standards. Using a basic talking-heads structure, Mactavish interviews those who best understood Murphy to help us understand what made this SEAL so special. His parents, Daniel and Maureen, fondly recall Murphy’s childhood spent in Patchogue, N.Y. Former teachers and classmates paint him as a borderline saint even as they recognize that the living tend to glorify the deceased. But “Murph,” we’re told, was a loyal friend, a selfless sibling, and a courageous soldier who never doubted his calling to train for and join the Navy’s SEAL program.
If every nice guy received his own movie, though, neighborhood theaters would burst at the seams with noble yet unnecessary documentaries. Right when you begin to wonder why Mactavish elected to focus on Murphy, the movie takes its turn. Details of his heroism on the battlefields in Afghanistan should be discovered by those who seek out this documentary. To reveal here would be to spoil the hook of Mactavish’s tender film. But audience members likely will mirror the pride shown by Murphy’s closest friends and family members when they learn how and why the soldier earned a posthumous Medal of Honor from President George W. Bush, and the impact Murphy had on a medical student named Hector Velez.
Mactavish has a colorful connection to Hollywood, having played a Goomba in the 1993 pop-culture classic “Super Mario Bros.” opposite Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo and Dennis Hopper. At this rate, though, he’ll likely be remembered for the riveting armed forces documentaries he’s producing through his nascent company, from 2008’s “God and Country: Untold Stories of the American Military” to “Murph.”
It’s also worth pointing out the irony of “Murph: The Protector” opening in theaters opposite Antoine Fuqua’s “Olympus Has Fallen,” a testosterone-soaked cartoon of an action movie that casts Gerard Butler as a lone-wolf soldier tasked with rescuing the president (Aaron Eckhart) when terrorists attack the White House. Stoic documentaries won’t replace Hollywood’s overblown odes to patriotic heroism any time soon. But by celebrating an actual American hero, “Murph” reminds audiences that bells and whistles, budgets and effects aren’t necessary so long as filmmakers have human stories of bravery and valor to tell.
O’Connell is a freelance writer.