Act of Valor is a propaganda film, make no mistake about that. Albeit it is a stunningly filmed and marvelously choreographed propaganda film, but it is a film with an agenda nevertheless. Given that the film has proudly declared its use of “Active Duty Navy Seals” and was co-financed by the Navy Seals themselves, this is no surprise, but it does change Act of Valor from, what could have been, a passable action film to an insulting and dangerous exercise in ethnocentricism.
Given that the film celebrates its use of real life Navy Seals, it seems pointless to comment on the fact that the acting is porn-level acting, in its finest moments, but it is an undeniable factor in my disdain for the film. Nevertheless, Act of Valor manages to do one thing right and that is not asking its actors to act much at all. The storyline is minimal and for hardcore action fans, they may be able to overlook the few moments of dialogue and clichés (seriously, one dude has a pregnant wife waiting at home and that’s his entire backstory) for some of the breathtaking gunplay and strategic action sequences.
As one of my friends pointed out, “it’s just a movie” so why can’t I let them force-feed me patriotism? Because Act of Valor prides itself on being more than a movie. It is a glorification of real-life heroes who do deserve to be celebrated, but not with this garbage.
In the early moments of Act of Valor, the film resorts to on-screen display of army stats, as if they mean something to the audience, rather than giving us something to care about. Besides the film’s stunning lack of character development, the ideology of the film is perhaps most troubling.
The film begins with the message that men are only considered men as long as they are dangerous. In its final moments, one of the protagonists tells the unborn child of another to “lock his pain in a box” and to deny his emotions. Ignoring the fact that these are terribly antiquated and disturbing notions of masculinity, the film is far too quick to judge without taking a long look at itself. The film is dedicated to hunting down and disposing of “dangerous” men, more commonly known as terrorists, but the men fighting them pride themselves on being dangerous? This wouldn’t be so problematic if it were not for the film’s completely black and white portrayal of war. In one of the weaker moments of scriptwriting, one of the men actually declares that there is no room for sympathy or shades of moral gray.
Scenes like this demonstrate how Act of Valor attempts to sanitize war and the effect it has on men and women. The film’s tendency to cram its agenda neatly into a message of patriotism is exactly what makes me dislike the film so much. Some who read this will undoubtedly accuse me of being less than patriotic or even un-American, but I ask you, what is un-American about asking how your country can better itself? It is precisely the kind of portrayals like the ones in Act of Valor that oversimplify and sanitize the all-too-ugly reality of war, turning it into a spectacle to be watched rather than an all-encompassing emotional and physical battle.
Act of Valor comes out June 5 in a Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Combo Pack on two discs. Among the special features are a director’s commentary, deleted Scenes, interviews with real Navy SEALs, a number of featurettes, and a Keith Urban music video. if you find yourself able to stomach the actual film itself, these special features may be of interest to you, but sadly, they offer about as much insight as the film does character development.