Saturday, February 25, 2012

Act Of Valor

Welcome To Your Glossy Recruiting Manual. Hold On..

A scene from the drama "Act Of Valor". directed by Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh. 
Relativity Media


Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Saturday, February 25
, 2012

Before it even starts "Act Of Valor" announces itself as one big marketing manual for U.S. Navy recruitment.  For five minutes the co-directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh wax on about how they made the film with actual Navy SEALS, who also devised their own combat missions, stunts and used real live ammunition as they do during training exercises.

Then "Act Of Valor" starts.

That however, is the trick: the five-minute trailer or prequel, if you will, is part of the film.  The directors insist that "Act Of Valor", which opened yesterday across the U.S. and Canada, will not be like any combat or war film you've ever experienced.  Unfortunately it is like any other war film, and Kurt Johnstad's script for it is very bare as if not there.

As I watched the directors' introduction I asked myself: "Why am I seeing this?  Why can't the movie just begin?  Why do we need the selling points of a brochure?"

"Act Of Valor" is narrated by an active duty Navy SEAL whose name I forget.  He lays out the landscape of his colleagues concisely, talks about the pain his and other wives must feel when saying goodbye.  All of these things are true but in a film they all sound cloying, and manipulative, which is what this glossy, slick and picturesque brochure of a film is.  Full of photo op type shots and lingering vanity portrait camera shots, "Act Of Valor" is a showcase of shameful propaganda for the Navy, and in some ways does serious discredit to the real hardships and challenges the brave men and women of the U.S. Navy face.  "Act Of Valor" shows a Navy elite SEAL unit go virtually unscathed, with three notable exceptions, while fighting through a Nintendo war.

Shot with HD video cameras "Act Of Valor" looks sharp, clear and colorful.  The film however, jumps from one trumped up heroism moment to the next, looking to milk applause from its grateful, cheering, rah-rah American audience.  Lots of "bad" guys get their heads shot at and exploded.  Lots.  I actually counted 18 different occasions where this happens.  Like Hollywood's "Black Hawk Down", "Act Of Valor" is one-sided, with actors playing caricatured roles or sacrificial lambs either as trophies of rescue or beasts to be brought to their knees by American military might.

Critiquing this film in such a manner of course, does not mean that one is unpatriotic or doesn't appreciate the proficiency, professionalism and precision of the Navy SEALS.  On the contrary, the work of the men and women of the Naval Forces is outstanding, and yes, they risk their lives every day.  I respect, exalt and appreciate their service.  This film however, sadly undercuts them, despite the Navy SEALS developing the action sequences themselves.  The SEALS aren't seen facing the most severe dangers that we've heard about in selected moments on a news broadcast, and that is a travesty.  The danger is mainly isolated to one or two or three gun-toting individuals.  The fights, stunts and tactical battles are very good and impressive but little more is known about the SEALS objectives and we don't get a sense of each of these men beyond two main characters.

The bad guys played by actors look out of place, as do scenes where a real-life SEAL interrogator talks to an actor.  The balance and flow of the scene's rhythm are uneven and the gulf between real and pretend is enormous.  "Act Of Valor" may have worked better as a documentary, with actors playing the real-life SEALS.  Actors have played real people in documentaries before.  I think of Clio Barnard's "The Arbor", last year's great documentary about British playwright Andrea Dunbar. 

I wish "Act Of Valor" hadn't made things so movie black-and-white.  And I wish that the pre-game pep-talk by the directors had been scrapped.  It all adds up to a cynical, disingenuous ploy to engender an enormous emotional groundswell by film's end.  No one should be numb to the bravery of those who risk their lives on the front lines, but "Act Of Valor" is an exercise in heroism for heroism's sake, manipulated and exploited as hallowed pageantry of all things American.  The film isn't jingoistic but five more minutes and it likely would have been.

With: Actual Navy SEALS, and actors Roselyn Sanchez, Nestor Serrano, Emilio Rivera, Ailsa Marshall.

"Act Of Valor" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for strong violence including torture, and for language.  Be warned: there are many exploding heads as they are shot.  The film's running time is one hour and 51 minutes.

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