Photo: Relativity Media
For a movie buff, I don't do a lot of movie reviews. Probably because deep down inside I hate Hollywood (Cue Darth Vader voice: "The disconnect in this one is strong."). But when I find a movie that doesn't make me feel like I need to shower afterward and is worthy of recommendation, well then I feel compelled to comment.
And so, a few words about "Act of Valor."
I suspect that most of you have heard of the film, and more than a few have seen it, as it has been doing well at the box office. But for those who require it, a little background:
"Act of Valor" was filmed over the course of two years and features actual U.S. Navy SEALs playing, more or less, themselves. As some are still active, they are identified in the credits sans surnames. You can tell which of the characters on-screen are SEAL members by the fact that they're in incredible shape, know what they're doing in the action scenes, and can't act their way out of a paper bag when things aren't blowing up.
But you don't watch a movie like this for the performances. And somehow I don't think these full-time warriors and part-time thespians are losing any sleep knowing that they won't be facing off against Sean Penn and Tim Robbins at next year's Oscars.
Now it's been noted that the film has a marginal plot: terrorists attempting to insinuate 16 suicide bombers into the country via Mexico. So do most action movies. The purpose of the plot in this movie is to provide a foundation for several action-filled vignettes.
I have seen gossamer-thin plots plastered onto many lesser Hollywood productions whose politically correct credentials ensured favorable reviews where none were objectively warranted. And if a thinly plotted movie is the only way to get these acts of heroism on screen, so be it.
The film has also been criticized as a recruiting vehicle for the U.S. Navy. First of all, Hollywood was not concerned about making "Top Gun," the single greatest Navy recruiting commercial ever made. Secondly, most Hollywood movies make the military look monstrous, not heroic. So maybe "Act of Valor" helps balance the scales, as there are not many Frank Capras stepping up today to make our military forces look good. At least the film touches upon legitimate concerns in a credible manner, generally abstains from the over-the-top jingoism of some of its celluloid forefathers, is entertaining, and leaves no question as to who's wearing the white hats (OK, green camo hats).
The SEALs wearing those green camo hats embody attributes worthy of emulation, both in their personal lives, as portrayed on screen, and in their disciplined adherence to their cause and one another. Small things, like a team leader's strict adherence to protocol when you know he'd prefer to be in the fight, serve as reminders of the need for discipline during engagements, be they of a military or patrol nature. The film also shows how critical it is to discriminate between friend and foe and get good target acquisition in a firefight. Finally, the team's leaders are shown to have the brains to make contingency plans.
For me, the film had an ancillary benefit, too. It opens and closes with the reading of a letter. Whoever wrote that bookend letter artfully summed up the nature of men who venture into harm's way on our behalf and provided a template by which young men and women can live honorable and rewarding lives. If I had any say in the school system, the damn thing would be required reading. But since I don't and it ain't gonna be, I took my 11-year-old and was glad I did. Like many of the men that exited the theater pretending they didn't have tears in their eyes, he did, too. He "got" it.
"Act of Valor" reminds us that there will always be those who will go above and beyond the call of duty and that, Nietzschean philosophy aside, there are areas where the divide between good and evil is clearly marked. Are they few? Yes. But so are the number of films that honor our warriors.Those that do deserve to be subsidized.
If you've been on the fence about seeing "Act of Valor," I hope that you will plop down your 10 bucks and do so. Maybe if "Act of Valor" is a hit, they'll make more movies that honor the sacrifice of the military instead of deriding our warriors.
And maybe, just maybe, somebody can make a movie that honors our own profession. How about it, producers of "Act of Valor?" How about a cop action movie starring real cops?