Two weekends ago, a movie called “Act of Valor” released in theaters nationwide. It was a bold approach to the military action film genre, and featured active duty Navy SEALS instead of actors. I know many people that have seen the film and really enjoyed it, but there’s one perspective that hasn’t really been brought to attention: the member of a military family.
I grew up in a military family. My dad has served in the U.S. Marines for over 20 years and has worked for four major U.S. military bases over his career. Because of his service, I have grown an immense amount of support for all of the military’s branches and have also acquired the senses of realism and passion behind the job, too.
If it wasn’t for my dad’s enlistment in the Marines, my opinion on this movie would’ve most likely been the same as a “Call of Duty” addict’s would be; viewing the job of a soldier as something that’s cool and full of adrenaline-pumping moments of action. Thankfully because of him though, I am able to proclaim that “Act of Valor” fully functions as a shameless, pretentious, heavily clichéd piece of Hollywood-produced military propaganda that’s more of a Navy recruitment video than anything else.
Surprisingly, “Act of Valor” was at first a short documentary on the behind-the-scenes of Navy SEALS training. However after its completion, the Navy wanted the filmmakers to make a full-length feature film on the combat of the SEALS. Had they just stuck with that short and left it at that, I wouldn’t be in this situation.
It’s a highly ambitious, yet very risky move to cast real active duty Navy SEALS as the lead actors in the film, and it certainly highlights as one of the biggest flaws. The SEALS were in their element when they debrief missions, but their attempts at conducting natural conversations and conveying emotional reactions were just unbearably painful to watch. I’ve seen my father talk to other Marines, and they’ve held more in-depth, real conversations than any of the forced ones written for this film.
However, I am glad that the real identities of the SEALS in the film are kept in secrecy. If their names were released, it would’ve created extremely mixed responses from both the press and public, and their personal privacy would vanish within days.
If a film on the military is going to star active enlisted members of the service, make sure it’s a documentary and nothing else. “Restrepo” (2010) documented an Army battalion’s struggles in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan. Because of its approach, the documentary had an incredibly realistic style and feel to it. It allowed the soldiers to express their own real, natural personalities, which is an opportunity that hardly every film of this kind comes around that often. Additionally, the scenes where the soldiers were in combat expressed the raw and realistic emotional struggles of the war.
“Restrepo” is one of those very few films that authentically portrays our military.
“Act of Valor” on the other hand forgoes that approach. Instead, it sides with piling on despicably repetitive military movie clichés throughout, in addition to glorifying the combat.
The two most prominent clichés are the soldier who has a pregnant wife back at home and slow-motion “dramatic” shots of the soldiers moving on after the completion of a treacherous mission. Well, it’s not like we’ve seen that before in a military movie, right? The amount of times this and other military films have shoved these two painfully repetitive aspects down your throat before, you wouldn’t be surprised they throw in a Sarah McLachlan song at some point.
Finally, this movie never explored the passion behind the Navy, something that my dad always shows for the Marines. This highly reduces the authenticity of depiction for both the SEALS unit portrayed and the Navy as a whole. Choosing to solely focus on the war against international enemies to the state doesn’t enact that passion; it really just screams recruitment for the job itself.
Overall, I have full respect for our brothers-in-arms for what they do for our country, especially my U.S. Marine father, but “Act of Valor” is the most shameless excuse of a film to showcase our beloved military in completely realistic fashion. Next time when someone thinks about making a war movie that properly depicts the branch being portrayed, think about those who experience the job every day both on the frontline and back at home with their family.
Tyler Christian is a first-year film and media studies major. He can be reached at email@example.com.