23 February 2012
I was extremely excited when I got a special sneak preview of Act Of Valor, the highly promoted film starring actual Navy SEALS and based on “real life” scenarios they may face in the field. I have a number of friends who served in the armed forces and a few who, while in active duty, sacrificed life, limb, and mental anguish to make America a safer place. My heart and prayers go out to all military personal and families. They are truly heroes and deserve better pay, health benefits, and guaranteed jobs when they return to America.
As I climb down off my horse I am forced to address this film, which was originally made as a recruitment video for the SEALS , with mixed feelings. Half of me loved the intense action scenes and realistic violence. The directors wisely use real SEALS who act like military robots in and out of firefights barely dripping sweat and always staring danger down. The other part of me wished we had humans in these rolls.
While I think Act Of Valor has some of the most tautly directed and edited action in recent memory I found myself yearning for the humanity that so often makes military films accessible to an audience. We never truly learn about the characters in the film only about the stakes of what they do. These missions are life and death but while the camera rolls they feel more like exercises.
Films like Black Hawk Down have been criticized for how the soldiers never show emotions, always have their game faces on, and lack a tangible element audiences with no military background can grasp. Act Of Valor suffers from the same weighty dialogue and sanitary morals that make war on film a hard topic to tackle.
We live in a time where the window of emotionless killing is closing. We use words like “Terrorists” so that people know we mean bad guys in the way our grandparents used “Nazis.” Yet we also have many revealing documentaries like Restrepo, The Tillman Story, and Taxi To the Dark Side that reveal a less glorified and more human side of war. With so much knowledge dispersed through these films it is impossible for me to sit in front of Act Of Valor and enjoy it entirely.
As I mentioned before, I respect the men and women who fight daily to make America a better place but I feel like a film like this would do better honor if it focused on the human side of the people involved. These are people who willingly risk their lives for other faceless Americans and I wanted to know more about that then what it looks like when they do it.