Reading the Act of Valor reviews of “professionals” like Richard Corliss of Time magazine is a telling experience. The overwhelming response by movie critics fell in line with Corliss, who called it a “cockamamie, Pentagon-approved war adventure.” Movie goers, however, overwhelmingly decided guys like Croliss were the cockamamie ones, turning out in strong numbers and giving it good word-of-mouth.
Act of Valor is a solid movie, one that’s unlike anything you’ll see coming out of Hollywood because…it didn’t. That might be why Peter Travers of Rolling Stone was so confused when he said, “I don’t know what to make of [it].”
One of the criticisms of Act of Valor is that the acting is poor and that the characterization is week. Under normal circumstances characters need time to develop, and it’s up to the writers and actors to help forge that bond with the audience. However, Act of Valor serves up an anomaly—it’s not nearly as crucial because the “actors” are real SEALs and it’s their story. We love them and care about them from the get go. From the opening line there is a connection with them because we all have military men and women in our life. When a SEAL speaks on screen, it’s easy to imagine him being your brother, uncle, dad or husband. That’s something all the money in Hollywood can’t buy, and it’s a star quality Matt Damon or Brad Pitt can never possess.
Knowing that SEALs are better with target rich environments than Hollywood scripts, the writers picked up on the points made above and ran with them. The family time is cut off quickly (just as it is in real life in their profession), briefings are given, and then it’s off on a world wide man hunt to uncover a terrorist plot and take down major players before they reach American shores. From there all the movie has to do is realistically portray the trials, tribulations, and tactics SEALs face in the field and on deployment. Across the board, Act of Valor delivers.
The final touch of genius the movie has is that, unlike a typical Hollywood film, no character is immune from life-threatening danger. Harrison Ford survives a nuclear blast at ground zero in the incredibly bad last installment of Indiana Jones, and for the rest of the movie tension is gone. He might as well declare himself a god, because the audience knows he will never die. The same goes for most Hollywood flicks paying millions for star “talent.” You don’t pay George Clooney millions of dollars and then kill him off mid way through the movie. With a movie staring Navy SEALs (the whole unit is the star), any one of them can be shot or blown up at a given moment—and any one of them might perform an “act of valor” by willfully sacrificing their life for a brother-in-arms.
The fact that so many “professional” critics yearned for more time to connect with the SEALs (i.e., they were hoping one of them was a drug addict, opposed to the mission, or an unpredictable head case) should speak volumes to the average movie goer. Hollywood and its typical major players are in many ways disconnected from motivations of everyday Americans. When we read their reviews we should do so through that prism, because only then can we discern what they’re truly saying. If you know who the reviewer is you can read a “bad” review and know that it’s a film worth seeing, or a “good” review and know that your time is better spent playing basketball with your son that Sunday.
If you haven’t seen Act of Valor yet, do yourself a favor and do so before it leaves the theaters.