Act of Valor

tn_actofvalorACT OF VALOR takes the covert-military-mission subgenre that we know so well from the works of Cannon and Nu-Image and puts a new spin on it: it’s a special ops procedural. Directed by 2005 Baja 500 winner Mike “Mouse” McCoy and stuntman/documentary editor Scott Waugh (together known as commercial directors “The Bandito Brothers”), it combines the old “elite team of warriors have to stop a mad bomber” formula with sort of a Soderberghian approach, building the movie around non-actors and taking advantage of their real life skills and unpolished presence. Except for the abducted CIA asset they have to rescue (Roselyn Sanchez from RUSH HOUR 2) the heroes are all played by actual Navy SEALs. “Active duty,” the ads and press releases like to say, so their last names are left off the credits.

The idea for the movie started after the Brothers did an official military film called NAVY SWCC, about the guys on the boats who often deliver the SEALs to and from their missions. They oughta be called the C-LIONs or something but they are the Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen. So working with the SWCC the Brothers built a relationship with SEALs that led to developing a Hollywood action movie with their consultation. But it’s kind of like when the Hughes Brothers were doing research for an Iceberg Slim movie and realized they should should do a documentary about the real pimps instead of acting it out. The Banditos realized it would be cooler to have real SEALs in the movie instead of actors. I mean, Charlie Sheen is pretty busy anyway, and Jesse Ventura’s getting old.

Of course the SEALs are doing all the stunts, which include many shootouts, ambushes, some grenades, some rockets. There are swiff boats, helicopters, submarines, skydiving, truck chases, camera drones. It reminded me a little bit of SNIPER, because it’s so much about planning things out and waiting for the right moment and praying that the extract team shows up on time. But of course it’s a bigger team and it’s less character driven. There’s plenty of talk about saying goodbye to your family and sacrifice and pregnant wives in between the three big mission sequences, but the emphasis is on the missions and the teamwork.

mp_actofvalorThe genius of using real SEALs is that they apparently planned out the missions themselves. The Navy got final cut (unusual for a first time director!) supposedly to remove sensitive military secrets, but for the most part the movie apparently shows authentic tactics inspired by 5 “real life acts of valor.” At times I was removed from the movie a little thinking what a pain it must’ve been to do it – they had to schedule their filming around the availability of these soldiers and equipment. They have a short scene on the top of an actual nuclear submarine! It’s fuckin crazy.

It’s like some low budget movie where you get the actors there to film on the weekends when you can, and in between they’re doing their day job. These guys, who knows what crazy shit they were doing in the off hours. The movie was finished before bin Laden was killed, but they could’ve had other missions. I hope the DVD has outtakes of them rescuing actual hostages from Somali pirates or something.

Anyway, I wouldn’t know how realistic all this is, but it’s convincing to me. And while I’d hate to live in a world without the more ludicrous Chuck Norris version of this type of story (DELTA FORCE, INVASION USA) it’s exciting to also have this version where it seems like you’re seeing something close to how these type of missions really go down.

The most important question to me (sorry I made you wait this long) is whether or not the action is shot like shit. I almost went to see it on opening day but after reading a couple reviews that compared it to a “first person shooter” I decided to wait until I received assurances from trustworthy sources that it was gonna be legible.

Good news: it is about 90-95% comprehensible action and therefore Vern approved. Luckily when reviewers compare it to those video games it doesn’t mean shakycam, it means point-of-view shots. Along with more normal types of coverage cinematographer “Professional” Shane Hurlbut used helmetcams quite a bit to get the view of the soldiers sneaking in, looking through their viewfinders and all that. But that means the camera stays pretty steady since they’re moving in trying to do a precise job, they’re not in a mosh pit or sticking their head in a paintshaker. Most of the action makes sense and most of the show-offy camerawork pulls me into the action instead of working against it.

Now, when our heroes aren’t skydiving or sniping or sneaking around doing hand signals they do have some dialogue. And I admit I had a hard time telling some of them apart, even with their gear off. They don’t have a huge amount of screen presence, and I think some of the people who claimed that Gina Carano was bad in HAYWIRE will have to have some self-reflection after seeing this. But I have to say, I like them. I don’t know why so many people are close-minded toward the non-actor approach. There’s a quality that guys like this bring to movies that I think is a fair trade off for smooth line readings. They look and sound and carry themselves in a way that actors never do in these types of roles. They seem like hard working, serious minded professionals. Personally I love seeing great performances by actors, but I also like seeing that un-fake-able quality a pro-wrestler or a martial artist or a Navy SEAL can bring to the screen.

As much as I enjoyed the action sequences I’d have to say my two favorite parts actually involved talking. The first is before the first mission, when the families of the SEALs are enjoying a night on the beach together, and the soldiers all huddle up for a pep talk about how they have to make sure to take care of any problems with their families or finances before they leave so that they can focus on the mission and not stew about some shit back at home. It’s like a gentle version of what they did putting R. Lee Ermy in war movies – it seems like they just had him say what he would normally say in that situation.

The other one is the interrogation scene, where the team leader guy (the one with the beard) has one of the masterminds in custody and sits down for a talk. This is the part of the movie with the most humor, as he messes with the prisoner, acting overly casual and pretending not to know who he is. Then he gets down to business. I totally bought this scene and was checking to make sure I wasn’t just gullible and that guy was an actor – I did find an interview where the write explains that the chief never met the actor playing the terrorist and was only told what would be in his dossier and then they let him at ‘im. Kinda like how they had those kids really stay in the woods in THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and saw what happened when they played spooky sounds at them.

In an earlier scene the narrator dude said that he’d rather take a knife to a gunfight than be interrogated by the chief, and I wondered at that time if it meant he was great at getting into someone’s head or that he was a torturer. Phew, turns out it’s the first one. And when he yells that the suspect’s gonna get “locked up in a box” if he doesn’t help them out he seems to catch himself and says, “We’ll treat you humanely.” And this is a great moment because you wonder if he’s being sarcastic, if he’s cleaning it up in front of the moviegoers, or if he actually means it, which I think he does. And if he actually means it, is he right? Is the guy really not gonna get Abu Ghraibed, or is that just a nice thing for the interrogator to believe when he washes his hands of it and goes home to his family?

The villainous plot seems pretty far-fetched. They probly didn’t want to use Arabs, so they combined a bunch of real world dangers into what seems like an unlikely super-team: a Chechan extremist and a Russian opportunist team up in the Phillipines to build a powerful, metal-detector proof suicide vest that they plan to sneak into the U.S. with the help of Mexican drug cartels. In a Cannon movie or an Andrzej Bartkowiak joint I would actually want it to be a little more extravagant. They don’t have any real over-the-top speeches or scenes where they abuse their underlings to demonstrate how evil they are. But in a quasi-realistic movie, especially one endorsed by the Navy, it’s hard not to question it. Do they want us to think this is a real threat? Are they trying to make us afraid of everyone?

When the terrorists flip through photos of their targets it starts with Las Vegas, home of American decadence (and Cirque du Soleil), and the last one is the sign for the Pike Place Market, less than 10 blocks from where I saw the movie. It was weird to have that as the end of the scene so I started to wonder if it was possible that they made different versions of that shot to show in different regions. Probly not in this case, but with digital distribution I bet they’ll start doing stuff like that eventually. It would be a creepy way to make the threat hit closer to home.

That brings us to one of the things that all reviews of this movie are supposed to focus on, the idea that ACT OF VALOR is propaganda. I assure you that I am an anti-war lefty, but personally I was not bothered by this aspect of the movie. The number one reason for this is because what kind of a numb-nuts goes to a movie knowing that it stars “active duty Navy SEALs,” and then acts like it’s a surprise that it depicts them as heroic and awesome? And what, you thought the title was sarcastic?

No, of course that’s what it is, and you go to it with the understanding that that’s what it is, and most likely you have a brain in your skull that you can use to properly analyze the movie and put it in context with your understanding of the world and the history of war. If you’re completely helpless to watch this movie without accidentally signing up for the Navy then I don’t know, maybe you need something to shape you up anyway, because your brain muscle is not cutting it. I kind of doubt you’ll make it to the SEALs, though.

This interesting article on The Huffington Post says of the movie, “There are no corrupt officers, no damaged heroes, no queasy doubts about the value of the mission or the virtue of the cause.” That’s an accurate description, and if all, or most, or even alot of modern war movies were like that I might have some concern that somebody’s trying to sell us a sanitized view of war where it’s all good vs. evil and the only bad part is the hero’s burials are sad. But that’s not the case. This movie is the exception to the rule.

I’m embarrassed to be on the same side as the dipshits quoted in this post here, and the ones who are happy to consider this “alternative right wing entertainment.” They’ve always dreamed of a way to bleep out liberal things like not making everything 100% cut and dried and trying to look at the big picture and questioning things, and so far the technology is not available, so it would be good to have more movies where it’s just some awesome guys with American flags and guns shoot some evil foreigners in the head before they kill children that just want ice cream. I would not want all or most movies to be like that. I can’t believe these people are so partisan that they let their politics overpower something as instinctive as what movies they like.

I mean, I put a high value on movies that are both awesome and reflective of my view of the world – a THEY LIVE or a STARSHIP TROOPERS. But I’m not gonna pretend that movie BOBBY is better than DIRTY HARRY just because it tells me what I want to hear politically and the other one goes against some of my core beliefs. No, BOBBY sucks. DIRTY HARRY is way better. For right-wingers who can’t be artistically flexible like that I can see why 300 and ACT OF VALOR are a fuckin godsend. The Navy SEALs not only rescue kidnapped journalists, they also rescue these goofballs from only being able to watch Kirk Cameron movies and THE BLIND SIDE.

But I’m a frankly honest individual so I admit to agreeing with those nuts that ACT OF VALOR is not offensive. It’s simplistic, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I think the skills, professionalism and selflessness of the soldiers are interesting enough to hold up a movie. This particular one doesn’t have to be about those corrupt officers, damaged heroes and queasy doubts. I know about those things, I can fill that all in myself, and if I couldn’t there are plenty of movies about it from all eras of cinema. These are all important issues and they should continue to be acknowledged in movies, but they don’t have to be mandatory for every single one. In fact, turning these realities into movie cliches doesn’t do the cause any good, and making all movies about the cause over and over again doesn’t do the movies any good. Again, you’re choosing BOBBY over DIRTY HARRY.

And sometimes maybe we Americans who don’t believe in blindly following our politicians into war have a white guilt type approach to this material. We don’t want to feel guilty of rah-rah militarism even though we love action movies and are interested in what goes down in battles. I think if it was about how awesome the S.A.S. or somebody was we wouldn’t have the same reservations.

I mean, it’s okay to enjoy this. Maybe not as much as the guy sitting on the same row as me did, but still. If you’re worried about your kids being brainwashed just make them watch FULL METAL JACKET or something afterwards.

I like ACT OF VALOR and I kind of hope they make a sequel. I don’t think the Navy’ll let ’em go MAGNUM FORCE and explore those complexities, but there is room for improved villains and equal or greater special ops set pieces (maybe with more caper-movie style suspense as things go wrong and they have to go to plan B and C). Or maybe even going into a more ludicrous DIE HARD type of scenario with a scenery-chewing name actor villain, but using reality-based tactics.

Until then, part 1 has a well-utilized gimmick and a refreshingly different feel from other action movies of this era. I’m more of a HAYWIRE man myself, but it’s good to have another solid American action movie playing in theaters.

P.S. The Bandito Brothers are interested in other elite, secretive teams besides the Navy SEALs. Here is one of the commercials they did:

This entry was posted on Friday, March 2nd, 2012 at 5:09 pm and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

40 Responses to “Act of Valor”

  1. I don’t really want to see this movie, not because it looks offensive or overly “Rah Rah Rah” for my tastes but just because nothing I’ve seen on it so far has looked incredibly interesting or fresh, and I’m uninterested.

    However this review was fantastic. The Bobby/Dirty Harry analogy is great and I may use it in an argument in the near future. Thanks for making me think. I also like the notion that things like corruption and other real world implications are an important part of pretty much anything, and should be portrayed in films, but not ALL of them. I like that there’s room for an idealistic movie like this to slip through.

  2. Great stuff as usual, Vern!

    One question, since I don’t plan to see this (I have two young boys and see roughly 1 new movie a year these days!) but am very interested in (well, potentially bothered by, I guess) this aspect: I’ve read that the end involves a voice-over narration to a young child that is, to put it mildly, basically signing this toddler up for the military in the future, and doing so explicitly by questioning his manhood (or the like) if he doesn’t. I think a lot about images of masculinity in our culture, and plus have those two young boys of our own, and so wanted to get your take on a) whether that’s an accurate depiction of the end; and b) what you thought of it.


  3. Wow. I have never seen your website, and share apparently radically different political views that you do, but I have to tell you, this review and the associated comments are simply brilliant.

    You have done what many other people on “your side” of the aisle have failed to do. You actually reviewed the movie. I appreciate your associated thoughts and concur with them also.

    Thank you very much and keep up the good work.

    To answer Ben’s question: No. It is not the intent to challenge the manhood of the infant if he does not grow up to be in the military, the poem is below. If you get “join the military and kill people” out of this, I think you might need to take “English as a second language”, as I do not. Anyway, go see the movie, it is about values and sacrifice for others. I was actually inspired by it especially knowing that those events have really taken place, and that those men are representing men who have actually been grievously injured and killed for me and my children. The reviewer is spot on when he says the actors will not be getting any academy awards.

    “So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide.
    Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none.
    When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision.
    When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.”
    ~ Chief Tecumseh (Poem from Act of Valor the Movie)

  4. How about that, you’ve completely turned my opinion of this around Vern, I’d heard about the bad acting, and bad action framing complaints and wrote the movie off.
    I’ll have to check this out when it hits video for sure.

    Also Jack, welcome and thanks for posting, we like hearing and discussing film with people of all backgrounds, and are glad you like the site.

    Personally, I have no problem at all with jingoism in a movie if the movie earns it. Hence why I love all the big 80s action films, or something like Independence Day.
    It’s only a problem with stuff like Michael Bay movies, where the movie itself is garbage around it, and the patriotism feels completely forced and out of place.

  5. Ben – I don’t know, I don’t remember specifically what is said at the end, but the narration is based mainly around the Tecumseh poem that Jack quoted. According to an interview with the writer on the Q&A podcast he used that poem because the actor playing the character told him that’s what he has in the letter to be read to his kids if he is killed in action. I do remember it telling the kid that he has “warrior blood” or something. If it was telling him not to be a sissy I don’t think I caught that.

    Anyway my impression was that it was definitely a little macho but reflective of how the characters in the movie see themselves and their legacies.

  6. Bullet3 and Vern,

    I will check here now. I do not get to see a lot of movies, but I will make an effort to participate. Have a swell night there.


  7. “I assure you that I am an anti-war lefty, but personally I was not bothered by this aspect of the movie. The number one reason for this is because what kind of a numb-nuts goes to a movie knowing that it stars “active duty Navy SEALs,” and then acts like it’s a surprise that it depicts them as heroic and awesome?”
    Now that’s something that really bothered me a lot when I was looking for reviews of that alien invasion movie BATTLE: LOS ANGELES before deciding to see it or not: almost every bad review I found focused on the fact that it depicted American soldiers as heroes who could save the world from anything. As if the critics were expecting it to be MARS ATTACKS or to see the evil aliens be defeated by the Swiss halberdiers of the Vatican or a petition on Facebook, instead of a squad of brave American marines. And I mean, it is a bad movie, but it sucks for reasons that have nothing to do with its military propaganda. But I had to waste my money on the DVD to learn that.

  8. To qoute CLERKS: “Ooooo! NAVY Seals!”

    Seriously, I had gotten the impression that this was basically Team America without the irony or satire, and a bad film besides, but sounds like it’s a little more interesting and nuanced then that. Great review, Vern.

    And bullet3, I completely agree with you. Bad movies are jingoistic and “patriotic” in stupid, clumsy, ways just like they’re badly written, or poorly directed, or incoherently edited.

  9. Vern,

    I basically shared your sentiments on the film itself, although I kind of expected the vests to decimate city blocks instead of the anti-climactic normal explosion that the movie depicted (that was my only real complaint)

    I was curious as to what you thought of the cinematography. Shane shot approximately 80 to 85% of the movie on same camera that Ed Burns used to shoot his latest talkie movie, ie the 5d Mark II. This what allowed for a lot of the helmet type shots and to my knowledge is the first time that sort of camera has been used for anything more than fill in shots on an action type movie. I personally prefer film everyday of the week, but I was surprised by how decent the film looked and just wondered if you had any thoughts.

  10. That poem kicks ass, I actually got a little misty-eyed reading it.

    Nobody tell anyone – I got a rep to maintain (not really).

  11. This movie was shot with a 5d Mark II? They cost what – two grand? It really is getting to the point that “if you don’t like it make your own damn movie” is a totally legit argument to make. It’s getting time for those talkbacker haters of everything to put up or shut up I think.

  12. “I’m not gonna pretend that movie BOBBY is better than DIRTY HARRY just because it tells me what I want to hear politically and the other one goes against some of my core beliefs. No, BOBBY sucks. DIRTY HARRY is way better. For right-wingers who can’t be artistically flexible like that I can see why 300 and ACT OF VALOR are a fuckin godsend. The Navy SEALs not only rescue kidnapped journalists, they also rescue these goofballs from only being able to watch Kirk Cameron movies and THE BLIND SIDE.”

    Exactly, thank you Vern. As a solid lefty, I say to my fellow lefties: lighten the fuck up. If something is well done, appreciate that on its own merits, to hell with the politics.

    Or, more succinctly:

    art > politics

    We live in an era where partisanship is making a war zone out of every goddamn facet of life. It gets to the point where freedom FROM political considerations, left or right, is the greatest luxury of all. Add you can start helping us build this great politics free zone of thought with yourself and the words that come out of your mouth: nothing about politics, everything about aesthetics, than you very much please.

    In a hundred years, they won’t care about our politics. But they will care about the art we produced.

    Remember that: politics is petty and small. Art is eternal.

  13. We are in total agreement on this one, Vern, both concerning the movie’s politics and its aesthetics. I don’t have to agree with a piece of art’s message as long as it is communicated in a somewhat interesting and coherent way. A piece of art is not an act of government. It doesn’t have the power to affect policy and turn its worldview into law. It’s just an expression of a point of view. If you can’t handle experiencing a point of view that is different than your own, why bother with art in the first place?

    Also I liked that part where they rolled the CIA chick up in a carpet and the camera rolled with it. That was like a Scott Spiegel shot right there.

  14. There are absolutely movies out there that espouse political ideas that I don’t agree with, but I can still get behind their aesthetics. Vern already identified Dirty Harry as a great examples. The politics are kind of stupid, but the film is enjoyable nonetheless. But I don’t necessarily think that aesthetics always trumps politics. Just to play devil’s advocate, what about movies like Triumph of the Will or Birth of a Nation? These are not only aesthetically pleasing movies, but they are arguably inventive and an important step in the creation of the language of the film. But Triumph of the Will was an integral component in the project of preemptive war and the extermination of six million Jews. Can we really say that it was a “good” movie? Can you say that you enjoyed watching it? The same can be said of Birth of the Nation. The movie was responsible for jump starting the KKK, leading to lynchings, discrimination and helping promulgate racism in the U.S. Obviously Act of Valor doesn’t cross the same line as Triumph and Nation do (I haven’t seen the film, but I’m assuming from what I’ve read). There must be a point where a movie’s politics make that film a “bad” work of art.

  15. Good point RBatty. I also want to say that I’m not by any means saying to ignore the politics. I got mad at some guys criticizing Moriarty’s review of this for talking about politics. What kind of shitty review are you asking for, that the reviewer is supposed to pretend to be a robot who doesn’t have feelings and opinions about what he’s writing about? To me that’s one of the things I love to analyze about movies. I’m just saying that it’s possible to acknowledge and appreciate a good movie that I disagree with.

  16. Rehydrated Dehydrated Pirate Paul

    March 3rd, 2012 at 5:32 pm

    I long for the day when we don’t have to talk in terms of liberal vs conservative, democrat versus republican, labour versus tory, left versus right, etc, and instead people sit down together and talk about the best way to execute whatever works. Of course, as long as people want to view the world in terms of “their own” and “others”, this will never happen. So never at all, then. Yuck.

    Anyway, interesting review. I was considering seeing this (didn’t get a “jingoist” vibe from the trailers) but I don’t know… for some reason I’m just not excited by the prospect of an ultra-realistic slant on a war movie. I’m not a fan of war movies in general anyway, so… eh.

  17. It’s not really ultra-realistic, Paul. It’s still just a movie. The villains speak English to each other even when it’s not their first language and can’t shoot straight, the squibs are artistically placed, and the explosions make the cars do that backwards flipping thing they all do nowadays. So the realism isn’t going to be a deal-breaker for you, but all the slow-mo might.

  18. Belated thanks to Vern (and Jack) for the info on the film’s ending. Not entirely sure how I feel about it using Tecumseh’s words–since Tecumseh, after all, was if seen through the lens of the US government and the military who pursued him a domestic terrorist, an enemy of the state, a person to be captured or killed, etc–but certainly that poem is not itself jingoistic in any narrow sense.

    Thanks, guys.

  19. A source for more on Tecumseh, a pretty impressive and inspiring American all the way around: http://www.warof1812.ca/tecumseh.htm

  20. I’m in a coffee shop in NYC typing on my itouch so I’ll give you the short version now: the vast majority of films dealing with military corruption actually play into the validity of the system at large because the message is always that the “true” Americans overcome the threat of corruption and reaffirm the American dream by means of the prodestant work ethic and horatio Alger style philosophy.

    In a sense, the so-called liberal movies are actually far more right wing because they lull you into a false sense of security and carry an underlying message that our leaders are trustworthy and that American values will always win out because of their inherent goodness. Meanwhile, a propaganda piece like this actually functions to make the attentive viewer more alert because he/she has to interact with the film ethically and consider what has been left out and why.

    Think about it like counterculture fashion. If you create a fashion style based upon nonconformity and not spending on exclusive “designer” clothes, corporate interests will very quickly flip it around and sell fake faded vintage shirts, jeans made with holes in them, jackets held together by welded saftey pins. In so doing the cultural cache of the rebellion is nullified and the status of the nonconformist is mitigated.

    Not such a short version I guess.

    Beeteedubs; Israel was pretty swell. The wailing wall even felt holy.

  21. Rbatty:

    I didn’t wanna get into leni reifenstahl again, but yes, as a Jew who just got back from israel I will damn well defend that movie. It’s one of the most important and innovative films ever. And Olympia is even better. That doc about the 1936 Olympic games is utterly mesmerizing and riefenstahl was such a talent that as a heterosexual male, I can still understand the potent eroticism of its fetishizes view of the male form. Too, her later photographic essays, specifically, “The last of the Nebu” are rousing works.

    Also, she was a Nazi war criminal, hitler’s mistress and a horrible human being who should have hanged at nerumberg.

  22. Tawdry: I can certainly understand and appreciate the technical and aesthetic importance of Reifenstahl and Griffith, but I honestly cannot enjoy their work. They’re fascinating to look at, but not fun to watch, if you know what I mean. I just cannot put my politics aside when watching those movies.

    Ben: Good point about Tecumseh. I haven’t seen Act of Valor yet, but it does strike me as potentially ironic that they end with a poem by a man who fought to the death against American imperialism in a film about a special group that breaks the sovereignty of other nations. (Again, I haven’t seen the film, so maybe this juxtaposition isn’t as bizarre as it first seems).

  23. Rehydrated Dehydrated Pirate Paul

    March 4th, 2012 at 4:28 pm

    Majestyk – as long as slow motion is used for the right reasons and in an effective way, it doesn’t bother me. My problem is when it’s used because it’s fashionable, not because it’s effective. It’s like shakycam, “horror-blue” filtering, or lens-flare. A little use to create the right effect can work. Too much, and it detracts from the movie.

  24. Gotta say overall, tho there were some cool moments here and there, this one didn’t work for me. The filmatics didn’t represent the Greengrassian worst of the spazzo-cam aesthetic, but enough that it kept the action from reaching its pulse pounding potential. What ultimately solidifies my take is that I’ve just plain seen noble, herioc depictions of special forces operators/operations pulled off better. For my money “Tears of the Sun” or just about ANY episode of “The Unit” beats this hands down on the action and dramatic fronts. As for the politics, I can’t dismiss the propaganda label as completely unfair as “Act of Valor” did literally begin as a recruitment film. But the critic community’s selective application of the label is worth noting. I don’t think any of the film critics were quite as quick to toss it on the table with oh saaay “Greenzone”, “Rendition”, “Valley of Elah”, “Lions for Lambs”, “Stop-Loss”.

  25. I don’t want to be Captain Tightass here, but yeah, this movie is just too much for me. To clarify – I’m not going to see it (well, maybe if it comes on TV) because it looks repellant to me. But you know what, even if it wasn’t Navy-endorsed military worshipping propaganda, I still wouldn’t be interested in it. Because the only thing it seems to be promising is its literal-minded presentation of ‘real tactics’ and ‘real SEALs’ and, I dunno man, where are the characters? Where’s the story? I need something to sink my teeth into. I fucking love DIRTY HARRY and a shitload of reactionary movies, because they’re well-crafted films. This just looks like a music video to me. I mean your review is interesting and maybe I have the wrong impression about the movie, but what they’re selling to me sure doesn’t look like something I need.

  26. Rogue: I think you have a point about how the term propaganda is used unevenly or even strategically. I’m always a little worried about using the term. After all, what’s the difference between a political film and film that’s propaganda? Besides, the majority of the movies produced in places like Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s Russia weren’t Riefenstahlesque propaganda pieces, but rather entertainment fiction that had a political subtext, which, arguably, can be said of just about any piece of entertainment out there. Arguably, hidden politics are more dangerous than overt politics.

    I read plenty of reviewers calling the recent Chinese film about the Rape of Nanking, The Flowers of War, propaganda. I actually found this somewhat offensive. You can complain about the quality of the film, but to call the depiction of a historical atrocity like that propaganda crosses the line to me. Obviously because the atrocity occurred in the East rather than the West, Americans have less of a connection to the event. But imagine if a reviewer who didn’t particularly think Schindler’s List was an effective movie (fair enough) also called it a work of propaganda. That would not be acceptable, and likewise I think branding Flowers of War propaganda is, at the very least, kind of stupid.

  27. Vern, it’s interesting that you bring up Starship Troopers, because to many people – including some of the actors – didn’t get what Verhoeven was doing. When I saw it in the cinema I think I was the only one there who got it. I’m pretty sure this didn’t bother Verhoeven much, but hell, it bothered me. If the message is too subtle, what’s the point?

  28. Poe’s Law, Pegman. Any worthwhile piece of satire will be misunderstood by a portion of its’ audience as sincere.

    Starship Troopers is, in my mind, one of the greatest film satires of all time for exactly this reason. It’s one of the only films I have ever seen where the second time I watched it, it was like seeing an entirely different film. When I was 14, it was just amazing violence and scifi action, but when I saw it again at 20, I realized that it was unbelievably subversive.

  29. I think it’s worth noting that although this film is explicitly designed to be military propaganda, it feels pretty benign to me for two simple reason:

    1: It’s completely explicit and upfront about its intent and its backers. This isn’t some Michael Bay thing where you go in for giant robots and they spring the fascism on you. This one is so obvious about what it’s trying to do that it’s almost quaint.

    2: Although obviously pro-military, it doesn’t seem (at least in anything I’ve seen) to be particularly partisan. There’s a huge difference between being pro-military propaganda and contributing to the poisonous hyper-partisan culture war. Reactionary movies are often full of pansy left wing characters who sap the moral strength of the nation and keep our heroes from kicking ass like they need to. That’s a little unfun to see.

    But just demonstrating military effectiveness in a fantasy scenario doesn’t seem particularly political to me. Hell, they *are* really good at doing this type of thing. Showing them doing there job well, trying to help people, trying to make the world safer… isn’t that something we should all aspire to? No hero will ever be perfect, or inhabit a perfect world. But we can imagine them in a world which is simple enough that some of the things we value –bravery, sacrifice, teamwork– would really make a difference. That’s how we inspire ourselves to try to embody those things in our real life, messy world.

    So, VALOR gets a pass, at least at first glance, from me. I guess it’s not surprising that it gets caught up in the partisan rancor which has pretty much swallowed up every aspect of American life (there are paid adults on TV calling the Lorax book a radical leftist screed) but I think it doesn’t by any stretch HAVE to be.

  30. In all fairness, Theodor Gisele *was* writing a children’s book for specifically political reasons. In fact, a great many of Dr. Seuss’s books are pretty damn political. Some of them are about consumerism, others are about racism and there is certainly no denying that The Lorax was about conservationism. And it was certainly written to win the hearts and minds of children who didn’t know they were being preached to. Of course…I donno how the message of the book (haven’t/won’t see the film) could really be seen as offensive.

  31. Hey, what about the fact that it’s racist ?

    No ‘politics’ there to be wary about, right ? Just the matter of plain decency ?
    Or maybe this gets in the way of dumb, stupid ‘entertainment’ ?

  32. Have you seen it, and do you really believe it’s racist? Your link to a long and boring account of the letters that a guy got disagreeing with him for saying it’s racist hardly make it a “fact” that it’s racist.

    I don’t agree with the idea that if a villain in an action movie has a race or nationality than the movie is arguing against that race or nationality. They obviously went out of their way to include a bunch of different nationalities so it wouldn’t seem focused against one part of the world. But yes, it is an action movie made by the American military so it does end up with a little of the ol’ Chuck Norris movie style xenophobia. And definitely there aren’t alot of Filipinos in American movies, so you could say that having some as some of the villains in this is not balanced out in other movies.

    I don’t know, did you see it? Tell me more. You’re obviously upset but I’m not totally clear what you’re saying there.

  33. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/17/world/asia/amid-standoff-with-china-philippines-holds-war-games-with-us.html

    *****At the opening ceremonies of the exercises, the chief of staff of the Philippine armed forces, Lt. Gen. Jessie D. Dellosa, said regional concerns were being addressed by strengthening the military alliance with the United States.

    “The conduct of this annual event reflects the aspirations to further relations with our strategic ally, a commitment that has to be nurtured especially in the context of the evolving challenges in the region,” General Dellosa said.*****  

    So, there’s definitely not institutional racism against the Philippines.  Does that make everyone feel better?

  34. I think I finally get why there are aliens in BATTLESHIP.

    Evil foreign nationals = racist

    Evil extraterrestrials = not racist

  35. Knox Harrington

    July 21st, 2012 at 2:47 am

    Well, it’s a good thing District 9 came along and finally addressed this extraterrestrial rascism issue, Majestyk (although, as a red-blooded South African, I have to say that it really isn’t easy living with those fokken Prawns).

    Anyhoo, Act of Valor (or as civilized people spell it: Act of Valour). I finally watched it yesterday and quite enjoyed it. It’s like a really good DTV movie. In other words, perfect for our little community here at Outlawvern. The photography was a bit hit-and-miss (these guys need to learn how to pull proper focus at night), the editing was a little unpolished and the non-actor acting was distracting at first, kinda like listening to a rugby player during the post-game chat.

    But damn, I was entertained. Those Bandito Brothers sure found a massive gap in the market. Video game fanboys have been begging for a Call of Duty movie for years, and I never understood why Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer didn’t just reunite and make one. Clearly a Call of Duty movie would make a fortune (hell, Modern Warfare 2 made as much money as Avatar).

    Well, their loss. Act of Valor cost $12 million and made $80 million worldwide. Well done, fellas. I wouldn’t mind seeing a few more of these.

  36. Gooud tou read your thoughts oun this mouvie, Knoux.

    Not sure a series or sequel is gonna happen, though, since I understand ACT OF VALOR took a loooooong time to film. The filmmakers worked around the SEALs’ schedule, never the other way around. I haven yet dived (<– Navy pun in my opinion) into the blu ray's commentaries & all that, but aye'll report back with my findings when aye do.

  37. Knox Harrington

    July 21st, 2012 at 8:40 am

    Please do, Moth.

    Anything to draw some of the talk away from Prometheus and Batman.

  38. ***”… it is on the whole a much more professional organization than it was prior to receiving the U.S. training. And as drug violence and organized crime wash over Central America, Colombia’s security forces are helping train police units in every Central American country (except Nicaragua) and helicopter pilots in Mexico. Colombian special operators act as valuable force multipliers since they speak the language and understand the culture of these places in ways that U.S. forces might not. These Colombians are part of an expanding network of U.S.-trained special operators that also includes forces from Middle Eastern and eastern European countries and whose members are now participating in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere alongside traditional U.S. partners from western Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.

    Beginning in 2001, meanwhile, U.S. special operations forces began training and sharing intelligence with Philippine military units combating jihadist militants in the country’s south. After conducting an extensive assessment of the local conditions and actors, U.S. special operations units reached out to the neglected Muslim population in the Sulu Archipelago, offering health care and building wells and roads. They also conducted training exercises to build relationships with the most trustworthy Philippine units, which took the lead in combat missions. Sensitivities over Philippine sovereignty prevented U.S. special operators from taking any combat role, but they were permitted to supply intelligence, advice, and logistical support.

    One of the most significant successes of the U.S.-Philippine partnership was the 2002 rescue of a group of hostages, including an American missionary, who had been kidnapped a year earlier by members of Abu Sayyaf, a Philippine-based jihadist organization affiliated with al Qaeda. According to one of the U.S. commanders involved in the mission, a U.S. special operator came up with an ingenious scheme that relied on Philippine human intelligence sources and American technology to discover the Abu Sayyaf hideout where the hostages were being held. A man suspected of acting as a courier for the militants was followed through a market in the city of Zamboanga and persuaded to add a hot chicken to a shipment that the U.S. and Philippine forces believed the courier planned to immediately deliver to the hideout. Thermal sensors aboard an unarmed U.S. drone flying overhead tracked the shipment’s heat signature as the courier headed north to a dock and loaded the shipment onto a boat. Surveillance conducted from the drone followed the boat’s movements until it unloaded at a location that the U.S. operators correctly surmised was the hideout. In a subsequent operation, Philippine troops rescued the hostages, although two were killed.

    One of the kidnappers, the Abu Sayyaf leader known as Abu Sabaya, managed to escape in a boat. The Philippine units, backed up by two boats full of U.S. Navy SEALs and guided by the drone, pursued Abu Sabaya and killed him in an attack on his boat. Had U.S. personnel killed Abu Sabaya, it might well have sparked anti-American protests among Filipinos, many of whom still resent the American occupation of their country a century ago. Since Filipinos killed him instead, there was no backlash. Indeed, a key to the overall success of the decadelong partnership is that U.S. special operators scrupulously observed Philippine sovereignty and the rules of engagement that banned any U.S. combat role.
    “We established a relationship of trust and made it succeed,” said the now-retired air force commander Lieutenant General Donald Wurster, who led the special operations task force in the Philippines at the time of the rescue operation. Wurster readily concedes that the Philippines still struggles with religious and ethnic separatism, insurgencies, and corruption, but he claims definitive success in a more focused objective: “There is no al Qaeda nexus. We eliminated that.”

    The U.S.-Philippine partnership may lead to further security cooperation between the two countries. During a visit to Manila by U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta this past summer, the Philippine government expressed interest in expanding security ties as the United States shifts its attention to Asia — a remarkable turnaround considering that just 20 years ago, the United States vacated two large military bases in the Philippines in response to anti-American protests. ***


  39. Do you know I how I know that last post is spam? Because, nobody is on Myspace anymore! Step it up spammers.

  40. indeed, I have no idea how Myspace is even still around these days

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