Movie Review: Act of Valor


The box office this weekend was ruled by Act of Valor, which pulled in $25 million, despite being relentlessly savaged by mainstream liberal critics.  Rounding up some of the press attacks – which went beyond criticizing the movie as “bad,” and instead treated it as offensive, or even dangerous Christian Toto at Big Hollywood concluded, “No film should be above criticism, but the nature of the attacks above has less to do with quality and everything to do with scribes uneasy with the notion that Navy SEALs should be considered heroes for their bravery in the face of live fire – on and off screen.”  One Hollywood pinhead went so far as to compare Act of Valor to Leni Riefenstahl’s 1934 Nazi propaganda, Triumph of the Will.

As you may know from its extensive press coverage, Act of Valor used real active-duty Navy SEALs to carry out its amazing action scenes.  One of those men, Aaron Vaughn of SEAL Team Six, was killed when the Taliban shot down his helicopter in Afghanistan.  People who put their lives on the line for America took time out from their very busy schedules to make certain this film was done right.  To call it “something special” is to understate its value.

Act of Valor gives audiences an unprecedented look at realistic military operations, taking its “you are there” veracity to the point of actually filming some scenes from behind the gun sights of the SEALs, in the manner of a first-person-shooter video game.  This is one of the things that probably irritated critics of the movie, who think it somehow trivializes or dehumanizes violence by turning the terrorist enemy into pop-up videogame targets.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  After a few moments of witnessing close-quarters battle from a first-person perspective, every American soldier on Earth grew a few inches taller in my estimation, and they were already giants to me.

From a storytelling standpoint, the movie can be criticized for its minimal attention to character development – only a couple of the heroes and villains receive any back story or dramatic focus.  The acting is sometimes stiff, compared to the performances that even a naturalistic professional actor would deliver.  But plenty of Hollywood masterpieces had limited character development and stiff acting.  Do those flaws prevent 2001: A Space Odyssey from ranking high on “Best Movie of All Time” lists?

What throws mainstream critics off their game is that Act of Valor doesn’t have any colorful, nutty soldier characters.  Before the screening I attended, there was a trailer for an upcoming sci-fi film called Lockout, about a lone hero infiltrating an orbital prison to rescue the President’s daughter.  The hero, played by Guy Pearce, is described as a loose cannon who plays by his own rules, but is the only man who can get the job done, because he’s the best there is… by one of the characters in the film, using exactly those words.  It looks like it might be a fun movie, but that’s some weapons-grade cliché deployment.

Act of Valor has no such clichés.  None of the SEALs is a colorful loose cannon, a tortured soul trapped in a war he hates, or a ticking human time bomb.  They’re calm, dedicated professionals doing what it takes to accomplish their mission and watch out for the brothers to either side of them.  They know the risks.  They’re not thrill-junkie adolescents who recoil in shock at the first casualty.

The plot is fictionalized, but so plausible that it seems to have made some critics profoundly uncomfortable.  Mexican cartels smuggling terrorist hit squads into the United States?  You’d better hope that isn’t happening right now, and if it happens tomorrow, that men like the real-life SEALs who appear in Act of Valor are there to stop it.

This is an easy film to review and recommend.  It does exactly what its sets out to do, stringing a series of absolutely thrilling, highly realistic battle scenes – complete with machine guns that actually run out of bullets! – into a fictional, but plausible, tale of the War on Terror, and giving America’s civilian population a chance to re-connect with the “damn few” who have sacrificed so much to keep us safe.  It is filled with heroic American soldiers and murderous terrorists because that’s what the real world is like.  The Hollywood leftists who pumped out the twisted anti-American drivel that has been dying at the box office for the past decade should watch this film, made for a fraction of the budget used to manufacture those piles of pure B.S., and hang their heads in shame.  Any studio could have made a movie like this, at any time since 9/11.  It’s about time someone did.

The end credits of Act of Valor pay tribute to the special operators who have fallen in the line of duty since the global jihad started its latest war on America.  An incredible treasure trove of heroism and dedication lies within the stories behind those names, and so many others.  It is long past time to begin sharing those treasures with civilian America, and telling the real stories of our heroes in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The SEALs shouldn’t have to grab a camera and do it themselves.

Update: I forgot to award bonus cool points because this movie name-checks Big Trouble In Little China.  Apologies for the oversight.  It’s all in the reflexes.