Act of Valor

Rarely do pure-bred patriotic American films come along anymore.  The current military flicks are usually filled with destructive characters, government conspiracies, and the horrors of war—elements of a layered, involving anti-war film.  Here comes along Act of Valor, all but wrapped up in an American flag, showcasing ‘real active-duty Navy SEALs’ in fictional combat missions.  These men aren’t fighting a war they don’t believe in.  They don’t lack any trust in their government.  Almost unbelievably and contrary to every other mainstream action film, their government isn’t tooling them around under a sort of shadowy guise of sinister motivations and political coverups.  These fighting men are cut-and-dry American heroes saving the nation one mission at a time.

So how do I review this movie?  It’s completely two-dimensional, utilizing real commandos who make for minimalist actors when the booms aren’t going off.  Yet, this isn’t a documentary either.  To my complete surprise, the film actually has a standard narrative (Hollywood formula and all).  The story features a squad of SEALs deployed to rescue an abducted undercover CIA agent being held captive and tortured for information by a drug cartel kingpin, Christo.  The U.S. government takes further interest in Christo when they understand his connection with a group of extremist Islamic terrorists plotting a massive multiple-location attack on American soil.

Either action movies have gotten it all-too-right over the years, or Act of Valor screenwriter Kurt Johnstad (300) saw little value in ditching a completely formulaic plot involving drug cartels and an insurmountable terrorist threat.  I’ll be blunt here—this film isn’t about plot or characters or anything remotely related to storytelling.  This film is about showcasing Navy SEALs as elite patriotic warriors, not as actors.  Audiences will be captivated, as I was, by the reality and passion invested in the combat missions that usually emulate a real-life visceral version of Call of Duty gameplay.  Yes, if you are a 25-year-old devoted to that game, you will be enthralled by Act of Valor.  While I could have gone without some of the first-person view behind the crosshairs, and a little less shaky-cam within the action, I consistently believed in the threat that the filmmakers painstakingly portray with unabashed realism.

Non-gamers will appreciate this too.  Valor makes for a very heroic film that ultimately asks us to respect our soldiers rather than question their sanity and protest their manipulating government.  While the film struggles when the men are asked to ‘emote’ and carry dramatic weight, especially within a continual focus on two of the main soldiers, I believe its flaws are negligible in comparison to what directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh are trying to do and happen to do very well—give audiences the cold hard combat they came to see.

Many critics are chastising this effort as a propaganda piece more akin to a recruiting poster than an actual movie.  However, the film never sidesteps the mortal consequences of these guys’ effort to fight for American freedom.  I can’t imagine anyone so immediately inclined to join the ranks after the film’s heartbreaking closing moments.  I don’t care if this isn’t a ‘true movie’ since its efforts are meant to shed the trappings of movies and deliver an experience instead.  Forget actors.  Forget scripts.  Grab your flag and run behind enemy lines with a courageous squad of fighters.

 

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