Act of Valor

“Act of Valor” was born not in Hollywood, but in the Pentagon. It was commissioned by the Navy’s Special Warfare Command and its success will be measured not in box-office receipts, but in the number of new recruits it attracts to the Navy SEALs.”

- Jordan Zakarin, Huffington Post, 2/17/2012

“Act of Valor” began as a film project for the US Navy Seals. After working with them closely on a training video, filmmakers Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh conceived of the idea of a full length motion picture revolving around special forces tactics. The Navy was quick to agree, as detailed by the Huffington Post article above.

But above and beyond the discomfort I have with a Military recruitment video masquerading as a piece of fictionalized entertainment, and selling tickets at the megaplex, “Act of Valor” was painful.

It was an excruciating exercise in watching people who are not actors acting off of a script with all the nuances of a new, uncolored child’s coloring book, directed by men whose only directorial credit is the aforementioned training video.

The world of “Act of Valor” is a two-dimensional one. The villains are cartoon characters. Seriously, Sascha Baron Cohen’s “The Dictator” character would make a more subtle villain than the ones in this film. Literally the movie pits the SEALs against latin american drug cartels connected to Islamic Jihadist terrorists. Together, the villains here literally blow up school children, torture women and try to smuggle explosives into America. I was surprised they didn’t have them burning flags. The heroes are set up just as cartoonishly as the villains, with the one solider we’re shown with a home life having a pretty, young, pregnant wife. She needed to bake him an apple pie and leave it on the windowsill to cool. If they had intercut that with the Jihadists burning flags, the heavy handed symbolism here would have been complete.

It all fits right in with the rest of the jingoism here, though. There’s voice overs about sacrifice, reading warrior poetry, spouting military catchphrases about honor and sacrifice. After which they go right into military briefings about targets, mission parameters, extraction points, etc.

One would think that once the requisite set-up scenes and plot constructs and characters and such were all out-of-the-way and the action kicked in, that the movie would be fine. I mean the action of the film was its chance to be special at least, these are ACTUAL Navy SEALs, and their REAL tactics, right? Unfortunately, apparently movies and video games have been ripping off military tactics for years, because there wasnt anything here which was unique. There was one moment where a sniper took out a target on a dock, and a submerged squad member caught the target prior to his body hitting the water so it wouldn’t splash… that’s the one moment that I felt had “never seen” anyone do that before. Aside from that, all the jargon, the mini sitcom briefings, the formation assaults – we’ve seen them! The specialness of the showing “Active Duty Navy SEALs” and their actual tactics vanished very quickly when it became apparent that it they didn’t have anything to offer above and beyond what we’d already seen in “Black Hawk Down” or “The Hurt Locker” or the “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” series of videogames.

Who knew, but Hollywood actually makes better action scenes than our military…

There is an elaborately filmed military funeral towards the end of the film. And it reminded that many people have and do sacrifice their lives for our country, and that that sacrifice does deserve to be honored. This isn’t the way though.

“Act of Valor” is an unrepetant recruitment tool that wants to charge you $14 at the gate. Once inside you’ll be treated to the most wooden performances ever, portraying a flat-line oversimplified story, starring effigies of the worst modern American international “bad guys”, serving to set up a series of nondescript action sequences with nothing new to offer, all coated with a layer of militant, patriotic propaganda coated on top. It’s all a thinly veiled attempt to glamorize joining the special forces.

I don’t know how it will do on its recruitment mission. But as a MOVIE? It is an ABJECT FAILURE.

F

25 thoughts on “Act of Valor

  1. Yeah, I had a bad feeling about this — like, here were all the best parts presented in the trailer. Sounds like the Pentagon should stick to backing things like war/action games and leave the other stuff to say Michael Bay ;-).

    “Literally the movie pits the SEALs against latin american drug cartels connected to Islamic Jihadist terrorists.”

    IIRC, this was a Tom Clancy scenario from one of his books. It sounds really sinister, till I started to think about it. Why would drug cartels seek the downfall of a country that is their biggest customer and profit center? Of course, that’s just my opinion. But it was also why I stopped reading Clancy’s books and started picking up author Don Winslow’s work (his book SAVAGES is the source for Oliver Stone’s next film release, btw).

    Fine film review, Fogs. Many thanks.

    • “Sounds like the Pentagon should stick to backing things like war/action games and leave the other stuff to say Michael Bay”

      Exactly.

      And on the “plot” like why would cartels collaborate with Jihadists… you’re not even gonna get that far. Trust me. It’s just the caricature of evil that the movie paints. Its as if these villains are tajken straight out of a New York Times Editorial Comic. You know the ones I mean. The Jihadists are bearded, bowing muslims, while the cartel stooges are banadana wearing, machine gun toting hombres.

      Its almost like, you know the phrase “rose tinted glasses” for viewing the world?

      Well, this movie has “red white and blue tinted glasses”.

  2. Fogs, glad you took one for the team here.

    Top Gun – awesome movie; Navy recruits up 500%
    Act of Valor – horrible movie; can’t stomach how turned off possible recruits might be

    If this was done by a training movie crew, where is the training theater for them to show it?

    • LOL… I dont know how the product they’ve put together here should appropriately be disseminated to the public. I was thinking about that… I mean, recruiters do their recruiting thing now and use videos, so however they do that. Or on TV or something? I just think its a kind of dangerously crossing lines to put it out as a movie when its not.

      There is no mistake whatsoever S, that this is a feature length recruitment commercial. End of story.

  3. Is it wrong of me to say that I’m glad this one failed? Now I realize that recruitment and propaganda films are nothing new, but the whole idea of this seemed off to me from the beginning. There’s something almost too obvious about the sound of it to make it really work as a recruitment tool.

    Then again, I’m not exactly their demographic–18 year old kids that dream of blowing things up, and are happy to reject what the know-it-all adults say (which probably includes some of us know-it-all film critics, now that I think of it) :-)

    • You may have seen my tweets from the theatre on this NTEMP… but I’ve never seen an audience like that ever.

      99.9% high school dudes. Two guys brought dates at the last minute, ruining the 100% I tweeted about, but, Packed house, pure high scool male. No one old. No females.

      Dont know how it’ll go over at the end of the day, but they marekted it to the proper audience at least, if its a recruitment tool.

  4. Whoa, I wasn’t expecting an F. That sucks. I’m sorry that this movie wasn’t at least an B/C. *sigh* I was hoping for a good grade for this one. OH well. Thank you for your honesty and saving me $14. You rock.

  5. “Who knew, but Hollywood actually makes better action scenes than our military…”

    Well, pretty much anyone who’d ever been in the military. A filmmaker friend of mine called me after seeing a screening wanting to talk up the film. He was obviously very impressed with the technical aspects, especially the use of HD GoPro cams in actual combat, or combat training scenarios. He seemed a bit disappointed when I told him there wasn’t enough tea in china to make me see this film. The fact that it glorifies combat and the military by using every entertainment trick in the book, form the swelling music to the artful cutting and slick cameras really makes it certain that I would be squirming in my seat by the time the opening sequence was done. Take it from someone who works as a propagandist for our government. I know all the tricks and this film exceeds at all of them.

    • Yeah, its a hoo rah fest alright.

      I dont have a problem with films that glorify military service, nor with actual recruiting tools. But posing one as the other kind of makes me queasy.

      And as a piece of entertainment it stank in complete fashion. I mean, I wanted to leave. It was real bad.

  6. When I saw the trailer for this, a couple things ran through my mind. The first was whether or not Navy SEALs could turn in a decent acting job. My brother kind of pooh-poohed the idea, saying that since they were just doing what their real life job was, it wouldn’t involve much acting, but I was and remain skeptical… sounds like I wasn’t wrong on that.

    The other thing that went through my head was “Don’t these guys have something better to do?” Pretty sure we still have military actions going on around the world. Even if they were on leave, don’t any of these guys actually have that young wife they’d like to get back to instead of spending more time working? No matter how you slice it, there’s a case of skewed priorities, unless this is precisely the recruitment tool it appears to be. It’s the only explanation that doesn’t make it all look ludicrously wasteful. And even then… putting aside any concerns about the ethics of dressing up a recruitment film as an entertainment product… I’m not inclined to pay money to get advertised to. No matter what the product being sold is.

    • Prior to seeing this, I was saying the same thing about if its NOT a recruitment video, shouldnt our special forces be doing OTHER things?

      Now of course that Ive seen it, I realize it IS a recruiting video, and so the issue shifts. I have no problem with active duty military creating recruitment tools, thats a function thats necessary and it doesnt need to be outscourced…

      The problem of course now is they’re charging tickets and putting it out as just a regular old movie. And I just get skeevy about it a little.

      Regardless, if they’re gonna put it out like a movie, I’m gonna grade it like a movie, and in that case, no they cant act, and the story sucks, and the actions nowhere near good enough to start forgiving any of it. So F-a-rooski.

  7. LMAO Best review ever. I could tell this was going to be shit, now this great review proves it. Thanks Fogs for the laugh! :D

    • Thanks man.

      Want to know what sucks though is this movie sucked so bad I didnt even want to have FUN ripping into it, I was just mad.

      I need another J Edgar or Immortals where I can really relish kicking it around, you know? Then we’ll have some fun! :D

      Glad you enjoyed!

  8. Great review, Fogs! I just wanted to add that my feelings while viewing the trailer was, I didn’t want a film to reveal all our military secrets or tricks, it makes me feel exposed. I was also worried about the film destroying our special forces bigger than life hero pride. If the soldiers were presented as human, which of course they are, we could lose some of that soldier magic that gives us the military edge. Know what I mean?

    • Well, rest easy, this movie didnt show anyone a damn thing. Including audiences! I was hoping there’d be something special to something about it… but no, not really.

      Everything you see in this flick, you already know that people do.

  9. Thing is, the potential recruitees out there don’t want to see what’s “real”, they want to know that they’re going to be like the dudes in Top Gun or Black Hawk Down.

    Definitely not seeing this one.

    • I agree on the potential recruitees wanting to see the glamorized fiction.

      I’ll just have to say, this wasn’t it by a long shot. LOL. This movie doesnt belong anywhere near Top Gun or Black Hawk Down. :D

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