Monday, February 27, 2012
NOW SHOWING: Act of Valor
“Act of Valor” is “based on real acts of valor” according to the opening of the movie and a deluge of commercials. The producers claim it is based on five actual missions. The movies big selling point is the use of actual SEALs in main roles. The Navy was totally on board for this. Check out that sub. Since the rest of the roles (with the slight exception of Rosalyn Sanchez) are played by no-names, the SEALs actually blend in pretty seamlessly. The overall plot is based on the rescue of a CIA operative and the subsequent quest to stop the infiltration of suicide bombers into the U.S.
The movie is essentially a buddy film centering on LT and Chief, two veteran SEALs. We briefly are introduced to the other members of the team, but they make little impression. Having all eight try to act would be pushing it. LT narrates a letter to his best buddy’s unborn son. Every line is quotable. For instance, “being dangerous is sacred”. Hallmark meets SEAL. The narration will reappear throughout the film and close the movie.
Things start rolling when a CIA agent named Morales (Sanchez) is kidnapped in the Philippines. The night drop (featuring the Navy Parachute Team) is cool. We are then on the ground with the sound track resting for jungle sounds, but kicking in full for the firefight. The infiltration of the camp where Morales is being tortured is aided by a Raven observation drone. The movie showcases several SEAL “toys”. The assault is very video-gamish and includes POV. The cinematography is exciting and not cartoonish. (It is also not quite as frenetic as “Battle: Los Angeles”. Feel free to visit the concession stand.) You do get a feel for being in the midst of it. As usual, the sniper gets top billing. The action builds to an exciting truck egress with several enemy vehicles in hot pursuit. This culminates in the arrival of the cavalry with Gatlings blazing. (Supposedly live ammunition was used in some spots.) The whole scene is spectacular.
The rest of the action pieces are inserted into a story of international intrigue involving a Russian narco-arms dealer named Christo and his old friend Shabal who is a Muslim jihadist who’s every thought ends with “Death to America”. The actors do a good job portraying the sophisticated Christo and the malevolently unhinged Shabal. The film globe hops as they track the two. The use of high tech maps keeps the geography-challenged audience aware of locales. Little time is spent on command decisions. This is very much a small unit movie, which is fine. Less time for strategic analysis leaves more time for tactical pyrotechnics. Basically we learn that Shabal is buying some kick-ass suicide vests from Christo for use by terrorists who will cross the U.S.-Mexican border. The clock is running, of course. Other than that ticking clock the movie gives no time references. We have no idea how much time expires between missions.
The next set piece is a sudden assault on Christo’s yacht. The audience is as much taken by surprise as Christo is. Nice touch. In a bow to the craft of acting, Christo is interrogated by a member of the team. These guys may be no-names, but they are not bad thespians. Like many money-grubbers would, Christo gives up his jihadist buddy. We don’t even have to torture him like Morales was tortured. We are the good guys, remember. Enough talking. It’s time to kick some ass in a Mexican village. Also time for a night mission so we can get some really cool night vision looks. The mission naturally turns chaotic and ends with LT taking an RPG in the chest. Fortunately his Bible stops it. Just kidding, it’s a dud. The Mexicans fare no better than the Filipinos Mission half accomplished because Shabal and the other half of the vest wearers have already left. Yippee! Keep your seat belts on.
The last set piece is on the border. The SEALs link up with Mexican counter-terrorists. Can the bad-ass Mexican leader be trusted? The movie does not have time for any of that Hollywood bullshit intrigue. There is also no time for recon. Remember that ticking clock? How do you do the opposite of the stealthy approach to the Philippine camp? Try using dump trucks. All that big talk about what those vests could do. Wouldn’t it be cool to see one of them in action? Sit tight. How about some “Black Hawk Down”-style action? Check. Will both buddies survive? Hint: one of them is about to retire, has a baby on the way, and his best friend is narrating a letter to his son. Will Shabal survive? Well, if the Navy was really serious about recruitment based on this movie…
I had been waiting for this movie for a while and as usual as the movie approaches (like “Red Tails”), you begin to pick apart the commercials and the press coverage and start lowering expectations. I have to say that unlike “Red Tails”, this movie held up. Most of the criticism is overblown. The acting by the SEALs is satisfactory. They are not asked to become George Clooney. I assume the two leads were the best actors of the real SEALs. They are a bit stiff, but the dialogue is not too cringe-inducing. Plus, if you know anything about the SEALs you know they are not Neanderthals. I could see them saying the things that are said in the movie. (By the way, the bad guy dialogue is subtitled – kudos for forcing your key demographic to read!) A big plus is the combat dialogue is appropriately terse and military. Contrast this to the laughable cockpit chatter of “Red Tails”. The film is not propagandistic or political, nor is it overly patriotic. However, it certainly is pro-SEAL. Get over it. In an aside, we don’t need effete Hollywood liberal critics bemoaning the dangers this movie might put the SEALs in or the secrets it is giving away. I’ll trust them to take care of themselves.
This movie is going to be successful not because of the acting, plot, or dialogue. The action sequences are great. I looked forward to each after the first one showed the director knew how to stage them. Each one is different, but they all put the pedal to the metal. I feared they would be poorly connected, but the plot does flow logically to each. As to the historical accuracy of each, I cannot weigh in on this yet. (Watch for a future post on this issue.) I assume each mission was in actuality unrelated to the other and involved different personnel. However, I have to believe much of the movie is exaggerated. For instance, I think I would have heard about a SEAL getting the Medal of Honor for leaping on a grenade. Still, if the events weren’t quite real, you know the SEALs are.
P.S. Check out that "Band of Brother"esque poster.