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Act of Valor


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#1 Christian

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Posted 24 February 2012 - 09:35 AM

I liked this film a great deal, but see that Christianity Today gave it half of a star. I wrote:

Inspiring and exciting without ever becoming exhausting, Act of Valor is the type of film that makes viewers want to volunteer for not just one, but all branches of the military. Call it propaganda. Call it a recruitment video. But call it what you will. Above all, this is a stirring, patriotic depiction of men who carry out dangerous missions on behalf of their country.

I supposed that "wihout ever becoming exhausting" is subjective. I tend to mentally check out of movies with chaotic action scenes, whether they're fight sequences or car chases. This movie held my attention throughout, albeit with slightly diminishing returns along the way. (The first rescue effort is stellar, IMHO.)

I found out after seeing the film that it began as a recruitment video. Indeed, that's what I was thinking as I watched the film: "This is the best military recruitment movie I've ever seen."

I suppose that's a bad thing, but to the movie's credit, I didn't care. I found much of the movie thrilling, and I often wondered how they pulled off what they did. (And who are these filmmakers, anyway?)

Dialogue is lame, but no lamer than any big budget action extravangza. Plus, these code words and catch phrases of the military are what they are. I guess I didn't mind, considering that scripts for movies with 5 times the budget this one has are even worse.

As I told my friend who attended the screening with me, this is the best movie of its kind I've ever seen. What "kind" is that, you ask? I'm not sure. But I thought of Black Hawk Down, a movie I expected to like but which was way too much for this ol' boy. I had to close my eyes and stop looking at the jagged imagery after about 15 minutes. Then there are the Red Dawns and Navy SEALs, liked by many of my friends when we were younger, but which, bottom line, are just stupid.

Act of Valor isn't stupid. OK, maybe its plot stretches credulity, but the movie is mostly about watching the SEALs in action, and I thought it was compelling stuff.

Edited by Christian, 03 March 2012 - 11:01 AM.


#2 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 24 February 2012 - 01:44 PM

I liked this film a great deal ... But I thought of Black Hawk Down, a movie I expected to like but which was way too much for this ol' boy. I had to close my eyes and stop looking at the jagged imagery after about 15 minutes.

As one of the ex-military guys here on the A&F forum, I can only say that there is something wrong with being able to watch and enjoy Act of Valor, but not being able to appreciate Black Hawk Down. Black Hawk Down is about real-life historical heroes who are engaging in great acts of self-sacrifice while trying to protect each other and the weak & innocent. At the same time, it's crafted by talented artists who highly value things like script and acting. I'd suggest that, for this reason, the emotional impact of a film like Black Hawk Down will always be far more powerful than something flat like Act of Valor.

I've developed a heartfelt appreciation for films like Band of Brothers, The Pacific, The Thin Red Line, Black Hawk Down, Tears of the Sun, Flags of Our Fathers, Saving Private Ryan, and We Were Soldiers. The best things I've seen on the movie screen about the "War on Terror" are The Kingdom, Restrepo and Generation Kill. I believe all these films are valuable for anyone to watch. At the same time, I find little to nothing to appreciate in films like Green Zone, Special Forces, or Jarhead (though that's probably not of the same "kind").

From the clips and trailers for Act of Valor, I would find it hard to bring myself to try it. It looks like Courageous for war films, except with less church and more dead bodies.

Edited by Persiflage, 24 February 2012 - 01:47 PM.


#3 Christian

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Posted 24 February 2012 - 01:53 PM

As one of the ex-military guys here on the A&F forum, I can only say that there is something wrong with being able to watch and enjoy Act of Valor, but not being able to appreciate Black Hawk Down. Black Hawk Down is about real-life historical heroes who are engaging in great acts of self-sacrifice while trying to protect each other and the weak & innocent. At the same time, it's crafted by talented artists who highly value things like script and acting. I'd suggest that, for this reason, the emotional impact of a film like Black Hawk Down will always be far more powerful than something flat like Act of Valor.

From the clips and trailers for Act of Valor, I would find it hard to bring myself to try it. It looks like Courageous for war films, except with less church and more dead bodies.

I suspect you might like Act of Valor, but who knows? I'm a little put off that you would characterize the film as "flat" and inferior to Black Hawk Down before admitting you haven't seen Act of Valor.

My preference for Valor may be a minority view, but I've at least seen both films, even if, as I noted above, I sort of mentally checked out of Black Hawk Down early because the filmmaking -- not the content of what was happening -- was making me queasy.

#4 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 24 February 2012 - 02:21 PM

I suspect you might like Act of Valor, but who knows? I'm a little put off that you would characterize the film as "flat" and inferior to Black Hawk Down before admitting you haven't seen Act of Valor ... I've at least seen both films ...

Sorry, I was reacting against the idea that you quit Black Hawk Down after the first 15 minutes, but now turns out you didn't. When your positive review and comments describe it as a military recruitment movie, point out that it has no compelling individual characters, and that the dialogue was lame and includes the line “Put your pain in a box. Lock it down. No man is stronger than one who can harness his emotions," I'm discouraged from trying it. The Christianity Today review you linked names “the film's most prevalent shortcomings: cliched dialogue and horrendous acting" which confirms my impressions from the trailers (an impression I also received from a trailer and then regretted that I didn't follow when I tried watching Courageous).

But I haven't seen it yet, I generally appreciate war films, and 3 of my friends just asked me to go see it with them tonight.

Edited by Persiflage, 24 February 2012 - 02:22 PM.


#5 SDG

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Posted 24 February 2012 - 02:35 PM

The Christianity Today review you linked names “the film's most prevalent shortcomings: cliched dialogue and horrendous acting"

FWIW, Ebert says "Assuming that the characters described as SEALs were being played by real SEALs, all I can say is that they were convincing and weren't asked to do any dramatic stretching they weren't capable of." I haven't read the CT review OR seen the film, but I wonder whether "horrendous acting" might not be an unfair phrase for what might be more accurately termed "limited acting."

Edited by SDG, 24 February 2012 - 02:35 PM.


#6 vjmorton

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Posted 24 February 2012 - 03:43 PM

The Christianity Today review you linked names “the film's most prevalent shortcomings: cliched dialogue and horrendous acting"

FWIW, Ebert says "Assuming that the characters described as SEALs were being played by real SEALs, all I can say is that they were convincing and weren't asked to do any dramatic stretching they weren't capable of." I haven't read the CT review OR seen the film, but I wonder whether "horrendous acting" might not be an unfair phrase for what might be more accurately termed "limited acting."

Steven ... I wish to thank you deeply for alerting me to that Ebert review of ACT OF VALOR so I can find out what he thinks of TO HELL AND BACK.

:twisted:

I've not seen ACT OF VALOR, but the fact it uses real SEALs is not a selling point. With rare exceptions involving virtuoso artists being behind the camera (the Dardennes, De Sica) ... actors are always preferable.

Edited by vjmorton, 24 February 2012 - 03:46 PM.


#7 SDG

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Posted 24 February 2012 - 03:49 PM

I've not seen ACT OF VALOR, but the fact it uses real SEALs is not a selling point.

That depends, of course, on what you are trying to sell, and to whom.

#8 Christian

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Posted 03 March 2012 - 10:35 AM

I think Podhoretz gets it right:

Like Top Gun a quarter-century ago, Act of Valor is an unashamed celebration of American martial know-how that will not only inspire teenagers but also instill in its viewers a renewed sense of awe for what the U.S. military is capable of doing. There are tiny drones and tablet computers used as GPS devices in jungles; mini-subs and machine guns are also flashlights and other stuff. All of this does succeed in creating real dramatic tension. ...

It’s not a good movie, if by “good movie” you mean that it tells a credible story well with skilled acting, strong dialogue, and well-developed characters. But it is watchable, gripping, and more memorable than many far more accomplished films.


#9 SDG

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Posted 03 March 2012 - 11:58 AM

So I didn't see this movie, but I'm curious what those who did make of the involvement of a villain who is an Eastern European (Russian? Chechen? Hungarian? I've seen conflicting comments) Jewish smuggler named Christo (really? a Jew named Christo?) who is involved with Chechen Islamic terrorists (specifically a Chechen convert to Islam). On that subject, I think this broadside is over the top, but this critique seems to me to make some plausible points. From the latter:

Hezbollah is all over Latin America; Hamas is showing up there; Iran’s paramilitary Qods force is reported to be operating out of Venezuela; Hezbollah and Somali Islamists have already sneaked illegally across our border from Mexico; the great majority of drug criminals in Latin America are Latin American – yet the production team for Act of Valor decided to make the villains in the movie Chechens, and make the Chechen drug smuggler a Jew. Why in the name of Jumping Jehoshaphat did they do that? The Jewish character’s name is Mikhail Troykavitch, but his nom de narcotics in Latin America is “Christo.” This seems a little studied, but perhaps is merely a coincidence. (If you’re not getting it, all Western names containing the syllable “Christ” in any form map back to the name of Jesus Christ. The “Christ” comes from the Greek christos, meaning “anointed.”) I say let’s assume nothing about a Jewish criminal naming himself “Christ” and move on.

Other reviewers have pointed out Christo’s rather cartoonish hooked nose and eyeglasses, so we need not belabor that. I was struck forcibly, however, by a disclosure early on about Christo’s Chechen associate, Shabal – the terrorist who blows up children while assassinating the US ambassador in the Philippines, and then plots to put suicide bombers with high-tech explosive vests in cities in the United States. Shabal, we are told, was connected with the 2004 massacre of schoolchildren in Beslan, in southern Russia.

The insertion of a Jewish character into this mix begins to rise to a remarkable level of haplessness with the Beslan tie-in. Perhaps the filmmakers were unaware that there is a well-worn theme among some factions in Russian politics of Jewish complicity in the Beslan massacre. (A relatively printable fulmination represented at a Pravda forum here; more colorful ones can be found in Russian.) The baseless allegation is periodically inflamed by reports that alternately suggest Israel is sympathetic to the plight of Chechnya, and in league with the hated, Russian-approved government there.

The flames are fanned further, however, by 9/11 Truthers who believe a Russian Jew, Boris Berezovsky, was connected with the 9/11 attacks. The same Berezovsky, who had business interests in Chechnya in the 1990s, is also quoted all over the net by the conspiracy-minded as boasting that he “caused the war in Chechnya.” Those of fevered imagination can’t decide whether the Jews are abetting Chechen terrorism or allying themselves with Moscow, but in any case, you can’t make a criminal a Chechen Jew and give him an underworld buddy who blows up kids and had a hand in the Beslan massacre, and not open up a big, sweaty bottle of single-malt anti-Semitism.

“But, good grief,” you might say. “Can’t anybody ever make a Jew a bad guy? What, screenwriters are supposed to look under every rock for exotic anti-Semitic tropes they might be inadvertently evoking? Seriously, we have to be that careful?”

And the proper response, the pointed, relevant response is: Why shouldn’t we have to? Look at Act of Valor itself. About whom were the screenwriters at least that careful? Consider the interview on Christo’s yacht, in which the SEAL senior chief is interrogating the drug smuggler. Note what the senior chief says out loud, and what he doesn’t. He barks at Christo, “But you’re a Jew!” – by which he is suggesting that it’s odd for Christo to be in league with a terrorist like Shabal, whose goals are presumably hostile to Jews.

Then the senior chief asks Christo, “You know what he is?” Well, we all assume we know what Shabal is, having seen him in a video near the beginning of the movie, calling on Allah while waving an automatic weapon. But the SEAL doesn’t say it. He doesn’t say “Muslim radical,” he doesn’t say “Islamic terrorist,” he doesn’t say “Islamist” – he doesn’t fill in the blank at all. The question hangs there, answered in every viewer’s mind but not on the screen.

In the real world, meanwhile, the transnational terrorists who keep popping up far abroad, especially in the Western hemisphere, are Arabs, Pakistanis, and Somalis. But Act of Valor gives us Chechens and Filipinos. (There is a brief interlude at an airfield in Somalia, but no Somalis in the terror gang we follow in the story.)

This political correctness wouldn’t be as noticeable if the filmmakers did not seem to have taken the long way around the barn to shoehorn a Jew into the story. The contrast can’t help standing out, and it is right to point it out. It would be wrong to accept it without cavil.

Much more briefly, from HuffPo:

Are there political motivations behind highlighting tunnels under the Mexican border, or having one of the villains be a greedy Jew with a big nose? Does Act of Valor reinforce the dangerous trend of blind soldier worship we have in the U.S., where we're supposed to "support the troops no matter what," which usually becomes "support the war and don't reduce their budget no matter what"?


Edited by SDG, 03 March 2012 - 11:59 AM.