Act of Valor is a different kind of action movie. The crew who made it call themselves the Bandito Brothers. They originally made a recruiting video for the U.S. Navy, I am that Man, back in 2009. Among other things, that video showed a live-fire extraction of U.S. Navy SEALs by Special Warfare Combat Crewman in heavily armed fast boats, and it was extremely well done. Having proved to the Navy that they were trustworthy, they set out to make the mother of all recruiting videos using real Navy personnel, and the result is Act of Valor. The movie’s official status as a recruitment video allowed the Bandito Brothers to feature active duty Navy SEALs in all the starring roles, backed up by the finest men and women and coolest equipment ever brought to the big screen. I know, because I saw it in a sneak preview two weeks ago, and I can’t wait to see it again.
WARNING: If you don’t want any “spoilers” then stop reading here and go see the movie!
With that out of the way, bad news first: real life Navy SEALs can’t act. These guys are soldiers, so don’t expect great dialogue delivered by great actors. The story centers around two operators who have almost all the speaking parts. Most of the SEALs don’t say anything much at all. For example, there’s a sniper who certainly looks like a hard dude, but his only lines are like “I’m on it” and “target acquired.” He usually says this right before bad guys start falling left and right to his suppressed M110 sniper rifle. The movie plays out like a video game, with cutscenes of dialogue in between the missions. The plot is completely stereotypical and is there only to tie the missions together in a coherent and entertaining way. The Bandito Brothers started with five real-life missions that they wanted to re-tell, and wrote the fictional overall story afterward. The flip side of this is that everything you see happen to a Navy SEAL in Act of Valor has happened to a real Navy SEAL sometime in the past 10 years. Incidentally, when you see the men saying goodbye to their wives and children as they deploy, that’s real too. It’s moving stuff.
I’m very happy to say that the bad guys are really bad, not just misunderstood. They want to bring a group of suicide bombers to the USA via Mexico and blow stuff up here. That’s it. The movie doesn’t go ridiculous with nuclear suitcase bombs or biological weapons that will wipe out humanity—extremists with high explosives are enough. There is also no “blame the USA” here, which I’ve seen enough of in Hollywood recently. We don’t deserve the wrath of suicide bombers because of our oil policy or our foreign entanglements or whatever. Those suicide bombers need to be shot with M4 carbines at close range, and these SEALs are just the men to do it. That’s the part where Act of Valor really, really shines. Folks, when it comes to action scenes I’m as picky as they get. Name any action movie and I will point out the mistakes and flaws. I laughed my butt off at Bruce Willis’ backward-mounted Aimpoint in Tears of the Sun. However, these are real SEALs shooting live ammo—when the same fast boat guys from I Am That Man show up and turn a couple of old trucks into flaming hulks, the tracers you see are the real deal, not special effects. The weapons handling, reloads, shooting positions, equipment, it’s all meticulously brought to life. Some of the filming took place with high-definition helmet cams placed in the boots of real SEALs. You get to watch them as they kick down doors and clear room after room. One of the first things you’ll see the SEALs do is a “listening halt” in the middle of the jungle. Anyone with basic infantry training knows how important periodic listening halts are, but have you ever seen one in an action movie before? When it comes to realism, Act of Valor hits a home run with me.
The insert and extraction sequences are worth the price of admission alone. The Bandito Brothers had unprecedented access to real Navy SEAL stuff. For example, the NAVY allowed them four hours to film on-board a submarine, with an underwater SEAL Delivery Vehicle attached. It is pretty dark in one of those things once the sliding canopy closes–you’ll see it through a helmet cam. You’ll see HALO jumps from C-130s, fast roping from Sea Hawk helicopters, a boat chase featuring those wicked looking Mark V Special Operations Craft, and even a ratty old Mexican dump truck. I think they stole that last one.
Act of Valor’s climax is an act of ultimate sacrifice that pays tribute to Michael Monsoor. The NAVY posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor to his parents in 2008.
I’m not going to lie, seeing it happen punched me in the gut because I knew Monsoor did it for real, giving up his life to save his fellow troops. The good guys save the day, but a price has to be paid for protecting the rest of us. The movie concludes with a powerful funeral scene. This must have been difficult to film with the real servicemen and their families. They surely have attended many military funerals in the past decade. I got some dust in my eye just then, if you know what I mean. I believe that veterans who have lost buddies in the field are likely to choke up as well.
I recommend Act of Valor with no reservations. I’m going to see it again and I believe it deserves better than what it’s likely to get at the box office. Grab your friends, grab your popcorn, and cheer on the Navy SEALs as they take down bad guys around the world, one 5.56 round at a time.
Trackback from your site.