Monday, March 26, 2012


Before seeing the film I saw last night, called Act of Valor, I had watched the trailer, and had read bits and pieces of reviews, most of which (in good journalistic inverted pyramid style) pack their brass-knuckled punch into the first sentence.

My personal favourite:
from Nick Pinkerton at the Village Voice -- "Act of Valor is, according to the opening titles, 'based on real acts of valor,' whatever that means."

A strong second place finish going to:
Robert Koehler at Variety -- "A mechanically efficient yet soulless dramatization of the U.S. Navy SEALs in action, Act of Valor ultimately misses its target: The hearts and minds of American audiences."

Dishonorable mention:
Blogger patsedin --
"At turns tasteless and nauseatingly patriotic, but also somewhat entertaining. I have to admit, I wasn’t having a bad time watching the movie until the last act, which is so grossly blatant in its preachy message and saddled with an overwrought closing voiceover, (“Put your feelings in a box. Lock them away.”), that it left a truly bad taste in my mouth...

Maybe it’s cynical, but I feel like this is [
I'm not making this up. -- ed.] a really sugar coated view of what really goes on...Act of Valor was a surprise hit, topping the box office it’s [sic] first weekend and making nearly twice it’s [sic] budget back in three days, grossing $25 million. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the movie did great guns in middle America, where it earned $18 million, but on either coast Act of Valor only made a combined $7 million... I can’t say I’m shocked, because this movie is tailor made for the whole middle of America."
Must say, this is not the same movie I saw. Now, granted, being a military mom, I'm going to take certain aspects of it differently -- harder -- than the keyboard-jockey in his paper-strewn lair, but at least I won't come out disgruntled because the directors didn't make the film I thought they should make. It's simply comic to read critical complaints about the fact that the character of the SEAL team was emphasized at the expense of the individuals, coupled with some nasty barb about the film's failure to be sufficiently "authentic" -- because, of course, who knows better than a film critic what the authentic character of a highly trained military squad involved in chaotic, split-second life-or-death situations, during which they must maintain focus and pursue their objective, should look like?

That question answers itself.

The view through rose-coloured news-hack glasses sometimes had difficulty accepting the plot-line. Wrote Peter Travers in Rolling Stone, "The action, involving Chechen rebels, Mexican drug cartels and assorted terrortists, is staged."

Really? Nothing like a Russian/Al Qaeda/Mexican three-way could ever happen? And the reason you know this is because it looked too much li
ke something you'd see on 24? Holy wow -- you're just the guy we're looking for at the National Security Agency.

A number of critics thought that the most dismissive comment they could make was to call the film nothing more than a naked military recruitment movie [Peter Travers again: "I don't know what to make of Act of Valor. It's like reviewing a recruiting poster."] and we can watch those for free, right?

At the risk of coughing up a giant SPOILER, these journo hacks would have us believe that the way we recruit (read: hoodwink) young people into joining the military is with an exciting, suspense-filled movie that ends with... [spoiler!!!!]

one of the most sympathetic principal characters falling on a grenade and being buried with full military honors in front of his pregnant wife.

Wow! -- you mean I can do that too? Sha-ZAM!!

My nephew claims he warned me about the film -- about a month ago he saw it in sneak preview and said he cried. I guess that wasn't enough to prepare me for what I saw. It was tense and exciting and believably sentimental and occasionally oddly funny (the interrogator is a genius).

Since (unlike many a journo hack) I not only know some real military people and have watched more than my fair share of genuine combat footage, but I have also met a lot of ordinary, real people from "flyover country," I found the film remarkably real -- yes, there was a bit of wooden acting here and there, but the critics make the fatal mistake of thinking that the Stanislavsky-inspired navel-based intensity they see on screen from professional thespians actually constitutes a portrait of reality rather than a close-up of the kind of self-absorbed neurosis that is decidedly lacking in the true warrior.

So I wasn't ready for the dénouement. I was a weeping, drained splat when it was over, and suffered from chattering teeth and a touch of lock-jaw for the next couple of hours. Not since my first viewing of Gibson's Passion of the Christ has a movie entered into and occupied my being in this way. My first act upon arriving home was to email my extended family and tell them NOT to see this film -- it's just too hard. I think it's a great film, and should be seen by all people in national leadership positions. But for those of us more directly involved in the life it describes, this is one we should save until "all our boys in various shades of blue are home safe for good and collecting their pensions."

In my family circular, I indulged in some less than charitable remarks, with a soupçon of hate speech, about politicians and journalists. I will refrain here. But I can't muffle myself when it comes to what may be the ultimate finger in the eye to Act of Valor delivered, as only a Canadian can, by Rick Groen at the Toronto Globe and Mail.
...Unfortunately, in the name of drama, they’re shipped out to the usual bogus plot – in this case, something about saving America from the clutches of suicidal terrorists doubly wrapped in their beliefs and their bombs. [emphasis mine -- ed.]

But say this for the real Seals. As performers, they are to the action genre what the male stars are to porn flicks – laughably wooden in the dialogue department, yet pretty impressive wielding their weapon of choice.

...As played by Alex Veadov, a professional thespian, the charismatic Christos [sic] steals every scene he’s in, especially the one set on his luxury yacht adorned with a full crew of female admirers in uniformly skimpy bikinis. [Sorry -- no objective viewer can watch the scene between Christo and real SEAL interrogator 'Senior Chief Miller' and say that Veadov stole it. -- ed.]

Suddenly, that recruitment poster takes an inadvertent but enticing turn into shallower waters: Join the Christos [sic] Navy, be all that you can be.’s easy to make out the moment when the code of honour meets an act of valour, prompting a brave lad to take one for the team, falling on a grenade in order to save his comrades.

All hail that flag-waving moment, when the deal is really Sealed: How sweet and fitting it is to die in defence of a movie cliché.

Wow! -- Who knew (?) that in 2004 when Cpl. Jason Lee Dunham, the Medal of Honor recipient whose name now graces a new Navy destroyer, fell on a grenade to save his fellow Marines at a Karabilah checkpoint, he was giving his life for a "cliché" of the most significant kind: the kind you see in a movie, our ultimate yardstick for measuring the world. If you're a journalist hack.

Finally, some otherwise reliably conservative bloggers at Atlas Shrugs and Ricochet see anti-Semitism as not only the core of the villain "Christo" [you can't make this up], but as the core of the entire film. Oh please. I'm done here.

It's not an ordinary film to be measured by ordinary standards. But it's a fine piece of work. See it, unless you can't take films that end with the folding of a flag at Arlington.