Act of Valor: Minus the acting

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Act of Valor PosterWe’re at war. We’ve been at war for over 10 years now, and a lot of people forget that on a daily basis. We kick back in our easy chairs watching American Idol and its contestants crying about being away from their love ones while they’re in California for Hollywood week. Meanwhile, our armed forces are thousands of miles away from their homes and families, putting themselves in harm’s way every day, not knowing when or if they will return. In comparison it makes the reality TV drama even more pitiful than it is already.

The way the American public has forgotten its military is a disgrace. I can honestly admit that I’ve gone days at a time without thinking for a moment about our country’s war efforts, let alone dwelling on the sacrifices of our soldiers and sailors. The new movie Act of Valor attempts to remind us that there are real people enduring very real sacrifices every day, so we can sit in our living rooms watching our TV in comfort and security.

The Navy SEAL (Sea, Air, and Land) team unit in Act of Valor is portrayed by actual active-duty Navy Special Warfare sailors in what started out as a recruiting film, but became a full-fledged action movie, dedicated to the service of the Special Warfare teams.  These are not actors, but the real men showing us what they do for a living – you know, stuff like taking out Osama Bin Laden.

It’s hard to say anything bad about a movie that is entertaining and reminds us of how much we depend on our service men & women and their selfless duty. But Act of Valor does have its problems. Anyone who ever saw a Chuck Norris film from the 1980s will recognize the plot here. Terrorists are attempting to attack the United States and the Special Forces team must stop them. It’s pretty cut & dry, and if you remove the fact that these are the real men in a fictional story, there is not much left to stand on.

The enemies in this film are Russian Muslims and businessmen who have recruited Philippine Muslim martyrs and also enlisted the assistance of Mexican drug cartels. While the producers of this film have gone to great lengths to show realistic battle sequences, complete with live ammunition fires and Call of Duty style first person perspectives, they have also tried very hard to avoid any portrayal of Arab terrorists. Perhaps because this would cause diplomatic problems in places where we currently have real conflicts, and where the film’s stars might find themselves in an even more dangerous situation due to this film?

Act of ValorThe talking scenes in Valor are wooden and amateurish, but I’ve seen worse acting from real actors and I’m sure these sailors would be the first to admit that they are not Julliard material. I only hope they got paid a typical Hollywood action star’s salary for this film. Thankfully, these awkward scenes are few and far between, and when we get to the action sequences, all is forgiven. The combat scenes in Act of Valor are intense and very realistic, and it’s obvious that this is what these men do as a profession.

As mentioned, Act of Valor started out as a recruiting film, and you can definitely feel that vibe throughout the movie.  But for me the bigger issue is that I felt like we were in some way showing our hand to the terrorists by exposing details of the SEAL capabilities and armament. The plot also reveals some pretty ingenious ways to go about attacking the United States. Not that they can’t figure it out on their own, but isn’t it a bad idea to show the enemy how best to attack us?

Act of Valor is likely to cause quite a stir over this election year as I’m sure politicians from both sides will be mentioning the film and falling over themselves, pandering and praising the military. And with the flaunting of military maneuvers and terrorist tactics there is enough controversy here that we may be hearing about this movie for some time. Recently the Special Warfare brass was even criticizing each other for being so forthcoming with the details of their operations.

The film ends with a dedication to the Special Forces soldiers and sailors who have been killed in action since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and what the movie may be lacking in cinematic originality, it makes up for with heart and the dedication to service portrayed by its stars, and on that merit alone it is certainly worth seeing.

If you’d like to learn more about service men who later became well know actors, read Valorous actors (and nerds of note).

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About the author

Bob Leeper

Bob Leeper is the co-owner and manager of "Arizona’s Pop Culture and Alternative Art Network," Evermore Nevermore. He is the co-creator of the pop culture events Steampunk Street and ENCREDICON, and is a member of the Phoenix Film Critics Society. He also curates the Facebook fan site The Arizona Cave – AZ Fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and is one of the few brave and bold fans of Jar Jar Binks.