Act of Valor (2012)

2012's Act of Valor (rated R) attempts to be one of the most patriotic films ever made, but as I watch it again, it seems to become one of the most unworthy films of the year.

The big draw to this movie during its ad campaign and pre-release state was that it was using real Navy SEALs as its cast, who would be performing real tactics used by this Special Forces branch of the U.S. Military. The audience gets to follow this team of elite soldiers on a mission to rescue a CIA field agent who is being held captive by terrorists. We then find out that this group from the middle east has allied with a Russian organization to suicide bomb several public area in the U.S., and the amount of estimated casualties was predicted to surpass the fatalities of the September 11 attacks. The SEAL team then goes on a mission to attack and disarm these bombers at the Mexico border, where they plan to enter the United States. One of the team is killed by a grenade, and the film ends at a funeral, dedicating itself to all the SEALs who have died since the attack on the World Trade Center.

This sounds all well and good, right? Apart from being very loyal to their country and having a general attitude of patriotism, these SEALs are shown in many early scenes with their wives and children, spending as much time as they can with them before they leave on their mission. However, the depiction of modern war in the film is the real problem here. I love a good action movie just as well as the next guy, it such a good thing to stylize what those men are doing over their to protect all of us from these all too common acts of terror? And to market it as popcorn entertainment? This film was nominated at the Teen Choice Awards for the "Choice Action Movie" of 2012. Is that what the Navy SEALs have become, simply a cool subject for an action movie? No, these are real men, who are using real tactics, and reenacting real missions, only this time in front of a camera. These men should be treated with respect, and produce a film that shows one thing: war is hell. Look at the films that have done this accurately in the past. Saving Private Ryan. Black Hawk Down. Letters from Iwo Jima. Films that show the harrowing effects of war to those who witness it, and they literally make your gut wrench at times. The less popular sister film to Letters from Iwo Jima, called Flags of Our Fathers, tells the story of the men who raised the flag at Iwo Jima, and what happened to them after the war. They were called heroes and had their names in the paper, and all because a stray picture of them raising the flag was sent back home. These soldiers didn't even know if they were really the men in the picture because their were two different teams who put up flags in different locations on the day that the United States took the shores of Iwo Jima. That film showed fear in the face of war, and should be commemorated for its realism.

Act of Valor looks at all of these films that came before it and gave the teens who watched it a new look at war: nothing less than what one would experience in a Call of Duty video game. In many cases it is all too obvious. There are shots during combat taken from cameras worn on the SEALs helmets that when displayed on the screen look far too similar to a first-person shooter game than real life. Should this be the impression that American teenagers receive about war? Absolutely not. This is where I believe that many critics are spot on when they call Act of Valor nothing more than a two hour long recruiting video for the United States Military. Regardless of how one feels about the military, most would agree that films marketed to teens should not be used for recruiting propaganda. Teens who want to join the army should watch Saving Private Ryan or something similar, at least to get a idea of the sorts of horrors that may await them. Act of Valor certainly wouldn't depict that.

I know what I have written is a bit opinionated, but it is something that needs to be said more often, especially with a future as uncertain as the one we face now looms overhead. Act of Valor is not entirely a "bad" film. It shows the men for who they are, fathers and husbands, who also give a great portrayal of the attitude needed of a SEAL...obviously, since that's their job. Honor is a heavy theme in the film, and the knowledge of duty to the mission and of one's country over all else while in the field. The concluding funeral scene is also very touching, ending with the image of the fallen soldier's comrades giving the widow her husband's flag. I suppose the question the audience should ask themselves before watching this film is this: should we expose ourselves to over-glorified military propaganda disguised in the form of an action movie, when so many films before it have given the exact opposite message that it is trying to convey?

I give it 1 tiara for violence, torture, language and a lame plot that is obviously United States military recruiting propaganda.

Review by Goldenmouth of "Writing With the Door Closed"