Saturday, March 10, 2012

710 - Act of Valor review

When “Top Gun” was about to be released on video, the studio offered the Navy the chance to put a promotional advertisement at the start of the tape in exchange for credit towards the production. The offer was rejected, as it was noted that the film already functioned as a recruitment tool and that extra enticement to join the military was not required.

26 years later we have “Act of Valor,” another Hollywood film that doubles as a recruiting tool for the Navy, this one crafted from the ground up for that specific purpose. When an insolent teenage theater employee demanded my ID at the counter before selling me a ticket, I couldn’t help but find the R rating a bit ironic, as the vast majority of people likely to see such a film and then feel compelled to volunteer for military service are kids. Who else can watch a widow weep over her husband’s casket and think, hey, that can be my widow someday?

Despite its origin and status as an advertisement, “Act of Valor” contains scenes and moments of surprising honesty and excitement. In truth, Hollywood makes advertising films all the time, usually for left-wing social causes, but they rarely provide as entertaining of an experience as this one, about what’s theoretically a non-partisan concern to boot.

The plot sees a group of SEALs tracking a multi-ethnic jihadist group across continents as a nefarious (and perhaps even plausible) plot unfolds that one of its leaders promises will make 9/11 look like “a walk in the park.” The action scenes are aptly done, finding a spot at the nexus of combat that makes it loud, chaotic, and dangerous, yet with a certain clarity realized through the perspective of the combatants.

Certainly the film’s Navy SEALs, played by actual active duty warriors whose names are withheld, look at least as convincing as any actor during the action parts of their roles, which involve sneaking around terrorist compounds, kicking in doors, and shooting lots and lots of bad guys. Unfortunately, these are career SEALs, not actors (a career reality I doubt many in either profession regret), and the moments that don’t involve the more cinematic part of their duties seem stilted, to put it charitably. These heroic men can dole out death in ways unparalleled across the world, and certainly they have rightly earned more genuine admiration than the most glamorous movie star, but convincingly reading even simple dialogue proves harder than it looks. As a result, we wind up with a film nearly as sympathetic to the terrorists as to the SEALs, played by actual actors who are shockingly allowed to imbue their characters with a trifle of humanity.

It’s that kind of touch that leads to a mild endorsement, the unexpected flourishes of reality that adorn this very profitable advertisement. Just as the SEALs are people with families, the bad guys do too, and it’s those in one’s life, be they a child across continents or a fellow fighter, that fuels those involved. The kids might not be able to read in-between the lines, but adults usually can, and “Act of Valor” functions as a reminder that war, however thrilling it can appear to those uninvolved, can rob even its most skillful participants of life and limb.

3 out of 5

No comments: