Murph: The Protector: Film Review

Murph: The Protector Screengrab - H 2013

Murph: The Protector Screengrab - H 2013

This loving tribute to a fallen hero is deeply moving even as it suffers from its glorified home-movie-like quality.

Scott Mactavish's documentary recounts the story of a fallen American military hero.

Every fallen member of the U.S. armed forces should receive such a loving cinematic tribute as Murph: The Protector, Scott Mactavish’s documentary about Lt. Michael Patrick Murphy, a Navy SEAL who lost his life performing an act of selfless bravery during an ill-fated 2005 mission in Afghanistan. Bringing a much needed personal perspective to a war that has claimed thousands of American lives, the film nonetheless suffers from a hagiographic quality that, from everything we hear expressed about its self-effacing subject, would have disturbed even him.

Consisting largely of talking-head interviews with Murphy’s parents, brother, friends and acquaintances, the film at times seems like both a glorified home movie and an understandably cathartic expression of grief for his loved ones. Murphy’s arc from high school football star to Penn State student to eager military volunteer is dutifully traced, even as it contains but a few seconds of footage of the man himself.

Much of the film’s early going is relatively vague, filled with endless paeans to Murphy’s kindheartedness, loving nature and indomitable spirit. It achieves more resonant narrative power when it finally gets into the details of his fateful final mission, which resulted in him being posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 2007. He was the first soldier of the Afghan war to receive the commendation.

It was but one of many honors that followed, including the naming of a new destroyer and a park in his Long Island hometown. But the real tribute comes in the form of the love expressed by everyone who knew him, especially his Vietnam War veteran father, who initially resisted the idea of his son following in his footsteps. It’s guaranteed that there won’t be a dry eye in the house when he recounts the story of how his wife inexplicably and miraculously got a text message from their son telling her he was safe, received on the very day of his funeral, even though it had apparently been sent months earlier.   

Pointedly avoiding any political debate about the inherent validity of the war, the film will no doubt inspire divergent reactions among viewers. But there’s no doubting the decency and heroism of its subject, or that his ultimate sacrifice deserves to be remembered.

Opened: March 22 (Mactavish Pictures)
Director/screenwriter/producer: Scott Mactavish
Executive producers: Chris Carlton, Todd Erlich, Joel Shapiro
Director of photography/editor: Todd Free
Rated PG, 81 min.