Murph: The Protector

A moving chronicle of some of the traits that should be more widely venerated in a media and pop cultural landscape too driven by the elevation of the trivial, director Scott Mactavish's documentary Murph: The Protector honors and celebrates the life of ex-Navy SEAL Lieutenant Michael Murphy, paying tribute to his personality, selflessness and service without succumbing to a less interesting, more knee-jerk wholesale lionization of the military. This is a tightly focused, deeply personal account of one man and soldier that, in rooting down into what made him so special to his friends and family, illuminates the best of American character.

Born in 1976, Michael was the type of guy in high school who would lash out at bullies trying to stuff another kid into a school locker. When his uncle passed away and his female cousins came to live with his family, Michael gladly gave up his room to them. Later, at Penn State, he made fast friends with a wide variety of folks. As his time at college wrapped up, Michael ditched plans for a legal career, deciding he wanted to try to join the Navy SEALS. He succeeded, and would serve honorably for several years before his life was claimed in a firefight in Afghanistan on June 28, 2005, the result of a tip to Taliban forces on the supposedly secret insertion of a four-man reconnaissance squadron of which Michael was the leader. In 2007, he would be posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, for his efforts to protect and save his men.

Murph: The Protector is built mostly around interviews with Murphy's parents, Maureen and Dan, other family members and assorted friends, but also includes some parallel biographical stands from Hector Velez, the first recipient of a scholarship fund set up by Michael's parents in his honor. Despite its somber ending, there are actually plenty of light moments along the way, like Michael's friends recalling their shared childhoods and Maureen recounting Michael's story to her about having to punch a hyena in the face during a late night run while on assignment in Africa.

Most moving, though, are the portions of the movie which detail the military's outreach to Michael's family, as well as the return of his body to Dover Air Force Base and Michael's eventual funeral, which highlights the special fellowship of different types of first responders. Murph: The Protector isn't a particularly sexy or dazzling movie; it eschews macro politics and the moves and ambition of statement filmmaking. It's a simple portrait of true heartbreak, however, and sometimes that's enough. For the full, original review, from ShockYa, click here; for more general information, click here to visit the movie's website. (Mactavish Pictures, unrated, 77 minutes)


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