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Movie Review: Act of Valor

A curious blend of fiction and not, with elements of documentary film, of the war genre, and the action thriller (including a first-person shooter view), Act of Valor is certainly unprecedented, completely compelling and exceptionally noteworthy.

The film is fiction, and states prior that is based on actual events; unlike other films that offer this preface though, those that star in the film are not actors, but acting out their profession on the big screen.  The eight stars of Act of Valor are real-life Navy SEALs, acting in a movie that uses real bullets, portrays real-life scenarios, and elicits very real emotions. Made during training sessions across several years, the main plot is general–thwarting terrorism–but the details are specific to actuality.

The film is a joint production between the military and Hollywood, with the Navy working to create something realistic, powerful, and entertaining, but also influential enough to bolster not only the image of the armed forces of the United States, but also the enrolment.

Some moments may strain credulity, but that would only be the case if the audience enters assuming the standard melodramatic influence of the Hollywood hand. In the very thorough creation of the film, those involved have made sure that events are based on real incidents, that indeed the men would talk and act as they do.

Bullets aren’t errant because it’s a movie and there is a desire to keep the heroes alive, they’re errant because terrorists are poor shots and the SEALs are good at what they do. The movie is dramatic, not melodramatic, and though it is clear that these men are not actors, it is very clear that they are a rare, dutiful, and determined breed.

If the film feels at times like it is taking scenes out of the popular video game will series Modern Warfare, which it does, it is only because those video games ensured their accuracy and were made to be realistic as possible.

With an acceptance of reality kept in mind, some scenes surely will leave viewers agape. The film begins with a startling terrorist attack followed by the murder of one C.I.A. agent and the abduction of another. The Seal Team is sent in to retrieve the agent, one has been tortured, and the resulting 20 minutes of their infiltration and escape are simply jaw-dropping. The deliberate yet casual nature of their actions, the simplicity with which they greet their problems, and the reliability (and perfect timing) all the Seals possess is singularly impressive.

Traversing the world, the SEALS are on the hunt for two terrorists working in tandem, one of which is a Muslim extremist. The film does neither tries to appease the present-day religious and geopolitical tensions in the world, nor does it need to coddle the audience in explaining the differences between religious people and violent religious extremists. The SEALS are given a task, and they act it out without protest or debate.

There are actors too in the movie, and the two terrorists in particular stand out. Two of the SEALs are focused on away from the fight, where one has a pregnant wife at home for whom he is determined to see again before the baby is born. While the familial aspect offers nothing to the film, and just adds to what not a well acted movie. It is not more compelling than the action sequences because those are more realistic, or simply realistic.

The movie is not purely propaganda, however, though it is charming in its realism. Embracing the fiction of the movie it is curious and surprising to see soldiers yell ‘changing!’ when they reload a magazine, an act that becomes memorable due to how rare it is to see or think about. The New York Times gives a more detailed account of the work involved and the perspective from the military, with perhaps a few spoilers, but it is required reading to fully appreciate what is being shown. The unique nature of the film cannot be stressed enough.

Some movies are enjoyed for their dramatic and realistic nature when they are wholly engrossing, others are entertaining for their absurdity, while others still are simply an escape from reality. Act of Valor exists in another realm entirely, and because of that, it is thoroughly riveting and powerful, and ultimately unforgettable.

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Anthony Marcusa

A pop-culture consumer, Anthony seeks out what is important in entertainment and mocks what is not. Inspired by history, Anthony writes with the hope that someone, somewhere, might be affected.