Friday, March 02, 2012

Movie Review: Act of Valor

I went into seeing Act of Valor having read two reviews by people whose opinions I respect, one positive (by Ed Morrissey) and one not (by Cranky TRex). The two differing opinions, plus other things I've read and heard about the film, really left me apprehensive about what to expect. I'll admit a complete predisposition to like the film, based on its subject matter.

Act of Valor, of course, is hyped on it featuring real active-duty United States Navy SEALs and other Naval Special Warfare operators in starring roles, basically playing themselves and using actual weapons and tactics employed in the real world. On that alone, I think it's important for a perspective viewer to look at the film as more of a docu-drama than a standard feature motion picture. Plot development isn't the film's strong point.

For all the film's shortcomings though, it is an important product and I enthusiastically encourage people to see it. However, some of you may need to prepare for a little disappointment.

Act of Valor is targeted at the civilian market, by which I mean people who generally unfamiliar with Naval Special Warfare and special operations forces in general. While I have no personal knowledge beyond what is publicly accessible, I'm a student of military history and tactics and little in the film presented a surprise for me as to what SEALs are capable of. On the downside there was also I did find it difficult at times to maintain suspension of disbelief. There were several shortcuts taken that, in my opinion, just wouldn't happen in the real world, but for purposes of the film understandably must be done.

Now, most of what caused me to raise an eyebrow would certainly go right over the heads of 99% of the viewing public and not detract from their viewing experience. I'm all in favor of our brave men and women in Naval Special Warfare looking like superheroes because in their own ways, they are. One point I'd like to react to is that I've read some criticism surrounding the film's use of "real tactics" and how this could give things away to the enemies of our Nation. Don't worry. I didn't see anything that I didn't learn about during light infantry tactics instruction as an officer candidate in the early 1990s or that someone can't find on Wikipedia. The secrets are safe.

I enjoyed the cinematography. I thought the use of helmet cams and shooting the film mostly from the perspective of participants made the action sequences more lifelike and drew the viewer into the story. Sections of the film draw the audience through the fourth wall, and that's good.

I believe Act of Valor's lasting contribution to cinema will be that "Hollywood" didn't want this movie. They're not interested in films that portray the armed forces in a positive light, and Act of Valor does just that without any blatantly patriotic moments or attempts to score political points. There is no "propaganda" in the film - zero - unless you consider accurately depicting and honoring our professional warrior class for exactly what they are as propaganda. Act of Valor simply confirms for those of us who already believe that our armed forces are made up of men and women of honor and dedication to family, comrades, and country - and we're just glad to see it portrayed on the big screen for once with no filters. People predisposed to the "baby killer" mentality probably won't have their opinions changed by watching. That's irrelevant in any case, as the movie isn't meant for them.

Act of Valor is a good, not great, film. It could have been better, but discard the opinion that poor acting by the SEALs is the detractor, because it's not. I will be getting a copy when it's released for home consumption, and will set it next to other important films (We Were Soldiers comes to mind) that accurately portray our armed forces in a positive light.

The film is rated "R" and I would not recommend it for viewers under 16. The language is harsh, as one would expect, and the violence/gore level is typical present day fare but less than other recent films such as Underworld: Awakening.

Kudos to the filmmakers, cast, and crew. Thanks for bringing us this movie.

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