The Judge Gordon Sullivan CrossFit workout is three push-ups.
While most of the headlines that CrossFit seems to garner focus on the difficulty associated with the sport, the next most famous attribute is its collection of famous workouts. Perhaps most famous among these is Fran, a diabolical concoction that requires the intrepid athlete to complete forty-five separate repetitions each of two difficult exercises in the shortest amount of time possible. Many of CrossFit's workouts are similarly difficult and carry the name of various women. Less well-known, at least as far as the media is concerned, are CrossFit's other big workouts, which they call "hero" workouts. They're named for fallen soldiers and are more-or-less designed to make the participant want to die. Instead of dying, CrossFit athletes complete these workouts as a kind of tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice. One of, if not the, most famous of these workouts is "Murph." First, you run a mile, then perform 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups and 300 squats. Then, run another mile. The workout is named for Lieutenant Michael Patrick Murphy, a Navy SEAL who was killed in Afghanistan in 2005, and the subject of Murph: The Protector. Though the film makes a clear case that Murphy was a good soldier and a better man, it's not particularly compelling viewing.
Through a combination of still photos of Murphy combined with interviews featuring his family and friends, we're introduced to the life of a man who, by all accounts, was a kind, decent human being who sacrificed himself to save a fellow soldier when a mission went terribly wrong. Along the way we hear about his childhood, college career, and decisions to join the military and become a Navy SEAL.
The 2013 holiday season was the time of Lone Survivor. Though the film was still a month from release, its trailer was in front of every movie, from comedies, to action flicks, to dramas. It stands out because it wasn't a typical trailer. Instead of just showing scenes from the movie, which it depicted as an action-drama, it also featured brief snippets of interviews with the director and the SEAL whose account formed the basis of the film. I bring up Lone Survivor for two reasons. The first is that Lone Survivor, while focusing on survivor Marcus Lutrell (at least in the trailer), is also the story of Michael Murphy. Murphy was part of the four-man team that was sent on Operation Red Wings, which hoped to find and disrupt the actions of a Taliban operative. The group was found out by some goatherds, who wandered into their position. The SEALs let the goatherds go, and hours later were ambushed. Murphy was killed (along with two other SEALs), and Marcus was only extracted much later.
The other reason I bring up Lone Survivor is because it's possible to learn as much about the why and the wherefore of Murphy's death from that trailer as it is from Murph: The Protector. Most of his friends and family know little of his SEAL exploits (unsurprising, given the nature of operational security), and The Protector does very little to put Operation Red Wings, or the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan in any kind of context. Instead, we get a series of interviews that basically tell us how great a guy Murph was. I'm not against it in principle, but in execution it feels really weak. Part of the reason is that it's pretty obvious pretty early on that these folks are right: Murphy seemed to be a decent person. To hammer the point home—both by including multiple people telling us this info, but also by having individual interview subjects repeat themselves—feels totally unnecessary. Most viewers will go in either already thinking Murphy a hero for laying down his life, or otherwise not caring much about him at all. The Protector is unnecessary for the former, and will be unconvincing for the latter.
I take no great pleasure in pronouncing Murph: The Protector unnecessary. He seemed a decent chap, and one deserving of some kind of memorial. Still, interview after interview only reminded me that he died during a failed mission in a country that many Americans can't find on a map, in a conflict that has always been a bit nebulous. Had Murph put its hero's exploits in a wider context, given us some reason other than loyalty to his friends and comrades for his death, I might have left the film with something other than a lingering feeling of waste at the lost potential his death provides.
At least Murph: The Protector (Blu-ray) gets a decent release. It's a Wal-Mart exclusive, according to the sticker on the box, but viewers can expect a solid 1.78:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer. It's a new production, so it has the high-gloss sheen of digital video. Interviews look fine, and the slideshow effect of pictures of Murphy is similarly of acceptable quality. It's not a visual feast by any stretch, but it works for the material. The DTS-HD 2.0 stereo track is workmanlike as well. The interviews are always clear and audible, which is all we can ask for this kind of documentary.
Murph: The Protector has its moments, where many viewers will be moved by the death of Michael Patrick Murphy. However, the film itself doesn't do enough to contextualize that grief, instead offering us a series of repetitious interviews that make the man out to be a saint. He was undoubtedly a great guy, but this documentary doesn't do enough to make that fact worthwhile for 78 minutes of screen time.
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