Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

March 9, 2012

Review: Act of Valor

Filed under: Movies,Social Science & History,War — Stephen W. Browne @ 9:16 am

Note: This is my weekly review for The Marshall Independent TV Guide.

“The nation that will insist upon drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking by cowards.”
Lt. Gen. Sir William Francis Butler (1838-1910)

Act of Valor is going to make movie history and is already generating a huge amount of critical controversy.

The film about Navy SEALs on a mission to stop a terrorist threat was made with the full cooperation of the Navy, and featured actual SEALs and Special Warfare Combatant Crewmen in the major roles, and a lot of really cool gear. This of course raises questions of how beholden the directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh were to the Navy for the content.

The Navy did in fact exercise a right of final cut over the film for security purposes, and kept some footage for training purposes. Though that itself speaks to the realism of the film.

For another, it was an Indy film with a production budget estimated at $15 to $18 million. Though this begs the question of whether the use of the Navy’s expensive equipment on training exercises should be counted as a subsidy.

Compare that to $250 million for “The Dark Knight Rises,” and $270 million for each of the two parts of “The Hobbit,” to cite two guaranteed blockbusters.

Many action scenes were filmed with Cannon Eos 5d mark 2 digital cameras mounted on helmets, motorcycles, etc. That’s a $2,299 camera! Not cheap but well within reach of anyone serious about making Indies.

Can you feel the major studios starting to get nervous?

Professional reviewers have generally not been kind to the movie. Of 90-odd reviews on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of writing, there was a 29 percent approval rating.

But a lot of people like it. “Act” opened at $24.7 million the first weekend.

It is no secret that among the intellectual and artistic community, a significant faction openly despises the profession of arms. Hollywood continues to invest considerable capital in movies that portray the military and intelligence community in an unfavorable light, despite the fact they tend to do poorly at the box office compared to patriotic-themed movies.

Critics of “Act of Valor” have called it “recruitment propaganda.”

So what does that have to do with the artistic merits of the film? Many classics made during the Second World War as war propaganda have stood the test of time. “Destination Tokyo” with Cary Grant is a rollicking good adventure story, as well as a deeply idealistic and thoughtful movie.

There has also been criticism of the “wooden” acting.

I grew up around sailors and marines and have interviewed a fair number of active-duty soldiers. What I saw was the demeanor common among professional military men, far more “realistic” than Cary Grant.

But don’t take my word for it.

“I respectfully disagree with those reviews. Considering they were not professional actors, I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the acting and almost all of the movie was very realistic,” said Anthony T. O’Brien Sr., Lieut. Cdr., U.S. Navy Seals (Ret.)

Obviously what is going on here is an argument about world view.

One of the severest critics, Chuck Koplinski, Illinois Times, entitled his review, “Simplistic Valor lacks the courage to face reality.
Yet Koplinski’s sneering criticism is just flat wrong on a number of points.

“They have gathered 16 Filipino Jihadists (yes, you read that right) and outfitted them with explosive vests that contain 500 ceramic ball bearings.”

Has Koplinski never heard of Abu Sayaf, the Filipino chapter of Al-Qaeda? Does he deny that jihadists do in fact support R&D to develop better means of killing us? Or the existence of working alliances between terrorist groups and smugglers?

Koplinski echos a number of critics in calling the drug smuggler Christo who hires out to terrorists, “one dimensional.”

“Christo has no problem giving the order to have her (CIA Agent Morales) tortured until she talks…” but, “when captured and given a “veiled threat towards the smuggler, promising him he’ll be locked away for the rest of his life and miss the key moments in his daughter’s life. Wouldn’t you know it, the guy folds like a house of cards.”

Hmmm, a ruthless gangster, who is by the way a Russian Jew allied with Chechen jihadists, capable of unspeakable cruelty yet genuinely loves his wife and daughter. Sounds pretty complex to me, and unfortunately all too realistic.

So with such pronounced disagreement among reviewers, and between reviewers and moviegoers, there is only one thing for me to tell you.
Go see it for yourself and make up your own mind. What you think will say a lot about yourself.

Footnote: One of the events in the movie that Koplinski and others have poured scorn upon is a scene (minor spoiler) where a SEAL is shot not quite point blank with an RPG, which fails to detonate. Wow, what luck ( pouring scorn.)

To be fair, the movie doesn’t explain, they just pass it off as a dud. The fact is, an RPG is designed to detonate only when it hits something HARD. As in concrete or steel hard. Some Swedish biker gangs discovered this when they acquired some RPGs to use on each other a few years back. (See how well gun control works in Europe?) A stray RPG went through the window of a grade school class – and just lay on the floor thank God, because the window didn’t offer enough of a barrier to detonate it.

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