Monday, March 5, 2012

Act of Valor

Act of Valor
Grade: C
Cast: Alex Veadov, Roselyn Sanchez
Director: Mike McCoy, Scott Waugh
Free Admission Granted

Act of Valor begins with the sort of sappy, mushy voiced-over letter that someone should regret. Someone may have. Preceding the storyline (and hence the letter) directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh appear on camera in what seems like a pre-emptive apologia. Speaking directly to the audience, the two men explain they cast real-life, non-actor Navy Seals and their families in hopes of celebrating the real people and capturing the real experience.

These real-life Rambos accustomed to living in the deep woods on sawgrass and toad meat soon face one of their toughest missions – hacking through the dense jungle that is the first 15 minutes of script and rescuing a real emotion. Capturing this stroke of emotion is one thing the directors state that they hoped to do – feeling that only SEALS and their families could authentically demonstrate the emotion of leaving your family for a dangerous mission. Never mind that actors do it well all the time. The stiffness of the families in the emotional moments raises the question, why are people so uneasy about being themselves in front of a camera?

For a while it looks like this mission will be an unintentional laugh riot. As the SEALs begin slipping into metaphorical body armor and gas masks, an even funnier thing happens. The film finally sends us on a mission. And it gets a lot better.

The audience finds itself tagging along on a moonlight jump from a cargo plane, landing in a marsh, re-assembling at the checkpoint, lining up the sniper redicle, squeezing the trigger, storming the stronghold, then being chased down a narrow dirt road by a drug cartel army, racing for a rendezvous with a pair of gunboats. The action is of unusually prolonged intensity. That’s when Act of Valor delivers what it promises – the sheer vicarious danger and thrill of being a Navy SEAL.

Act of Valor will quickly raise the age-old movie questions of whether the spectacle of film naturally glorifies violence. Is Act of Valor a real experience, or a hyper real experience? Is this an unsanitized depiction, or are America’s enemies really armed with an unusually high percentage of dud ammunition? At one moment, one SEAL gets to live out the Hollywood dream of hopping on a grenade and saving his friends in the name of his country. Then the director presumably yelled “cut” and he went to meet the family for dinner unscathed.

Valor is also certain to raise the sort of questions about collaboration with the military that have dogged films like Top Gun through the years. The movie actually was initiated by the Pentagon, which gave the filmmakers sweeping access, including some of the first shots inside a US nuclear submarine. Right or wrong, it raises the question of the line between art and propaganda.

But judging the politics isn’t as important here as judging the final product. While the warriors have obvious discomfort acting, and the script doesn’t help them, the action makes up for it. If the Pentagon wanted an exciting feature-length recruitment film, it got its money’s worth.

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