Act of Valor (2012)
|DIRECTOR:|| Mike McCoy, Scott Waugh |
|SCREENWRITER:|| Kurt Johnstad |
|MUSIC BY:|| Nathan Furst |
|STUDIO:|| Relativity Media |
|RELEASE DATE:|| February 24, 2012 |
|MPAA RATING:|| R |
Written by Chris Pandolfi
The deeper you look into the making of Act of Valor, the more
appalling it becomes. Itís not a war film, but a recruitment video Ė
commissioned by the Navyís Special Warfare Command as an initiative to increase
the sign-up rate for the Navy SEALs. Hired to direct were Mike McCoy and Scott
Waugh, former stuntmen and producers of sports documentaries. In 2007, both were
brought in to direct the recruitment short Navy SWCC, which documented
Navy boat operators on a training mission. This gave them unprecedented access
to the SEALs, whose wartime experiences inspired an idea for an action movie.
The Navy got wind of it when they were soliciting patriotic producers for new
recruiting videos. This came at a time, probably not coincidentally, when the
military was looking to bolster its image following the unpopularity of the wars
in Afghanistan and Iraq.
McCoy and Waugh proposed that real Navy SEALs be cast, as they believed it
would lend an authenticity no actor could reproduce. The Navy agreed so strongly
that, according to Jordan Zakarin of The Huffington Post, participation
of active duty SEALs was made mandatory. Eight would be featured in major roles.
What puzzles me is that, despite the fact that a SEALís identity must be kept
secret, all those involved were allowed to show their faces on camera. They were
not, however, given any screen credit; the only names listed are actual actors,
most of whom were hired to play terrorists. So it seems that, when youíre
starring in a feature-length recruitment video, the rules can freely be bent.
Never mind the fact that itís a matter of national security.
What infuriates me is that these men and women, who are indeed brave, are
being exploited, not just by Hollywood for the sake of entertainment, but also
by our government for the sake of propaganda. Their personal stories, which are
undoubtedly heart-wrenching, have been reduced by screenwriter Kurt Johnstad
into a series of clichťs that are not only threadbare but emotionally
manipulative as well. Consider a subplot involving two SEALs, both friends. One
has left behind a wife whoís pregnant with their first child. The other cannot
keep the news to himself, despite many requests to do so. When the father-to-be
isnít in combat, he repeatedly expresses his excitement over getting a two-week
leave and going back to his wife. And let us not forget that, just before he
leaves for duty, his wife urges him to be there when she gives birth. I donít
have the heart to tell you what inevitably happens to men like that in movies
Their missions, no doubt harrowing, are transformed into glorified stunt
spectaculars, complete with lightning-quick edits, pulse-pounding music, slow
motion explosions, and lots of people getting their brains blown out onto walls.
The filmmakers even find time to work in POV footage from cameras affixed to the
SEALsí helmets. What made them think that I wanted a first-person account of
shooting someone to death? More to the point, how does the Navy think such
footage will actually motivate people to seek out a recruitment center and
enlist? Perhaps Iím completely out of touch with reality, but it seems to me
that revealing the violence and bloodshed of war would do more to turn people
away, to say absolutely nothing about the very real possibility of dying in the
service of your country.
The plot, as it were, involves a team of SEALs deployed on a mission to
rescue an undercover CIA agent in the Philippines (Roselyn Sanchez), only to
discover that sheís a bit player in a global conspiracy to bring down the
American government. It has already started with the assassination of the U.S.
ambassador; the next step is to have followers land on American soil. Central to
the sinister plot are a weapons smuggler (Alex Veadov) and a jihadist terrorist
(Jason Cottle); they have gained access to a new explosive vest containing
hundreds of ceramic ball bearings, making it ideal for passing through metal
detectors. If the right venues are targeted, say a stadium or a shopping mall,
major cities would crumble and cause national chaos.
The film is bookended with voiceover narrations, both provided by one of the
two SEALs mentioned above. Itís made apparent in the opening scene that heís
writing a letter to someone. Decency prevents me from revealing who heís writing
the letter to and why. I will say this much; given the recipient, itís highly
unlikely the letter would be worded in the way it is. The real function of the
narrations Ė and, indeed, of the entire movie Ė is to beat you over the head
with an overtly jingoistic message that makes the war films of the early 1940s
look tame by comparison. Act of Valor is a reprehensible movie born of a
reprehensible purpose. Speaking not just as a film critic but also as an
American citizen, Mike McCoy, Scott Waugh, and the American military ought to be
ashamed of themselves.