You’ve probably seen war movies before, but chances are you’ve never seen anything quite like “Act of Valor,” a rather unique hybrid of Hollywood hotwiring and military promotional muscle.
To make it, filmmakers followed a group of members of the U.S. Navy’s Sea, Air and Land Team, common known as SEALs, on actual training exercises, threading them into a fictional storyline (based on real SEAL missions) involving the retrieval of a hostage from a jungle hellhole and a terrorist plot stretching from Russia to Mexico.
Unless you’ve been somehow living without access to any kind of media or human contact for the past year, you’re probably aware that SEALS are among the hottest, most rockin’ alpha males on the planet right now, thanks to their role the strike that smoked Osama Bin Laden in 2011 and, more recently, the rescue of two humanitarian aid workers in Somalia.
You’re probably also aware that SEALs, like all the U.S. military special ops forces, are traditionally a shadowy, covert bunch. That’s one of the things that makes “Act of Valor” so interesting: The military gave the moviemakers permission to feature a group of real-life SEALs as the film’s “stars.”
As actors, the SEALs leave a good bit to be desired, especially when it comes to speaking scripted movie dialog. But I think we’ll all agree to cut them some slack there. Thankfully, the movie offers them plenty of room to do what they’re much more comfortable doing: sleuth, stalk, snipe, and strafe with smooth, awesomely fine-tuned, homeland-protection precision.
The movie casts bona fide actors (nobody you’d recognize) as the despicable, snarling villains, who do a more than capable job making the audience cheer for them to go down after they blow up an ice cream truck surrounded by kids and torture a female CIA-agent hostage with a power drill.
The project, which began as a military recruitment video but mushroomed into a feature film, has been marketed heavily as an action-packed, patriotic military drama draped in the red, white and blue colors of the flag and dripping with family values. Millions of viewers saw it advertised in a TV commercial during the Super Bowl.
This relentless wave on wave of crashing, gung-ho testosterone won’t be everyone’s idea of zesty refreshment. But veterans, military junkies and warfare buffs will likely find it brisk, bold and invigorating, a rare tag-along with an honest-to-gosh special ops team in real Navy submarine, parachuting from real Navy planes, strolling the deck of a real Navy aircraft carrier, and firing real Navy bullets, not blanks – or so we’re told by the filmmakers in the movie’s prologue.
Other viewers, especially those with less appetite for thrill-of-the-kill war games, may just decide to let this macho military parade march on by.
Reality TV has already given us an obsessive, fly-on-the-wall view of a spectrum of American life, including Navy SEALs in training and Army wives in waiting. In that context, despite its unusual pedigree, maybe this kinda-sorta reality movie about actual soldiers on a make-believe mission isn’t such a really big deal, after all.