When I saw Act Of Valour,
there were a few people in the cinema laughing but I wasn’t one of them.
I was too busy being offended to the very core of my being.
Beginning life as a recruitment film for the US Navy who then decided
“Hey! Let’s see if people will
actually be dumb enough to buy a ticket to be indoctrinated…,” the unique
selling point of Act Of Valour is
that, in its quest for realism, it blends fiction and reality by having real
life, active duty US Navy SEALs play fictional SEALs on fictional missions
based on supposed ‘real world’ scenarios.
You with me so far?
So we follow the adventures of SEAL Team 7 as they stage the daring
rescue of CIA agent Morales (Roselyn
Sanchez) who’s been kidnapped and tortured by some evil, scumbag Hispanic
drug cartel stereotypes who are holding her in a prison camp in the middle of
the Central American jungle conveniently located next to a river allowing the
SEALs to get their frogman on and also be evacuated by gunboats.
While saving Morales, they discover that scumbag Jewish Ukrainian drug
lord Christo (Alex Veadov) is
helping Chechen boyhood friend turned evil, fanatical Islamist, scumbag
jihadist Shabal (Jason Cottle) to
smuggle a kamikaze team of female Filipino suicide bombers into the Land Of The
Free where he intends to stage a series of terrorist atrocities that (guttural Russian accent) “will make 9-11
look like a walk in the park,” using ceramic suicide vests that are
undetectable by X-ray which Christo has also helpfully supplied. Can the SEALs stop the bad guys and
keep America safe for democracy?
While it’s a repellent piece of blunt, naked, flag-waving propaganda for
the US military (who had final cut), precision-tooled to appeal to the next
generation of cannon fodder; the young, the naïve, the poor, the uneducated,
the disaffected, the disenfranchised, there’s no denying Act Of Valour is seductive filmmaking. But that’s why it’s so dangerous. It looks great and the action scenes have a visceral immediacy
and an adrenaline-pumping, videogame sensibility that puts the viewer right in
the heart of the action making it feel like Modern Warfare: The Movie with plenty of first-person shooter
visuals and a simplistic, patriotic narrative that feels more like mission
levels than drama. The opening
bombing of a Jakarta school with a booby-trapped ice cream van is breathtaking
and the SEALs’ initial assault on the cartel’s camp is almost unbearably tense.
Despite it’s bleats of manufactured authenticity however, Act Of Valour is a rag-bag of action
movie clichés that even Steven Seagal
might think was a teensy-weensy bit unsubtle. It has dastardly weirdy beardy foreigners as villains, innocent
children being blowed up, square-jawed heroes, a flag-draped coffin and a
21-gun salute. It’s got lashings
of slow-motion action (because that really happens in real life not just in the
Matrix) and everything is filmed
using those filters that really give Michael
Bay and Ridley Scott the high,
hard one. The script, scribbled by
300’s Kurt Johnstad, matters little and beyond being a hymn to rugged
American imperialism and derring-do, it’s just an excuse to stage the film’s
many visceral action sequences.
The filmmakers may have spent a lot of time getting the technical
details of modern warfare right but no attempt is made to engage on any level
with the underlying politics. Act Of Valour shows you how America’s elite warriors go to war
but never dares to justify, or even wonder, why.
Characterisation is non-existent; these men are robots. The SEALs may operate as a well-oiled
team but they’re a faceless, anonymous bunch, interchangeable parts of a
machine. I’m fairly sure two of
them might have been Black and one might have been Latino but I couldn’t tell
one member of the eight man team from the other. They may act with valour but they sure can’t act for toffee. And incidentally, have these real life
heroes nothing better to do than fanny about playing make believe? Did they win the War on Terror and just
not think to tell me? That must be
why I feel so safe? With the
protagonists such a yawning vacuum, inevitably I found myself identifying with
the baddies particularly Jason Cottle’s driven, intense Chechen extremist
exporting his own brand of international terror. None of the serving SEALs (including the leads) are
identified by name in the credits for security reasons though, as you can
clearly see their faces, surely all any self-respecting jihadi has to do is
hang around outside the San Diego naval base where the men are based with an
AK? Or, failing that, head to the
local beach where the film shows them surfing and enjoying family
barbecues. I’m not advocating they
should (I don’t want the SEALs kicking in my door and dragging me off to
Gitmo), I’m just pointing out a potential security lapse. Instead of crediting the SEALs who
appear in the film, Act Of Valour
thanks a roster of SEALs who have died for their country, which is nice (if a
bit sentimental), and offers advance
thanks to those who will die in the
future defence of their country which is, frankly, bloody terrifying!
Clunkily jingoistic, the dialogue is made up primarily of laughably
sub-par manly joshing coupled with a deep, meaningful, sentimental and largely
nonsensical voiceover which takes the form of a letter one SEAL writes to a
fallen comrade’s unborn child explaining how daddy died for duty, honour,
freedom and the American way. The
letter itself is made up of Zen-like sayings, quotes and wisdom and
interestingly the SEAL seems particularly fond of quoting Native American
Shawnee tribal chief Tecumseh: “A single twig breaks, but the bundle of twigs is strong,” and
“Live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart,” both
feature. Which is ironic because
back in 1813 Tecumseh was killed for having the temerity to stand up to the
invaders who had stolen his land and subjugated his people, establishing their
own nation – the United States of America. I can’t help but think Tecumseh might have had more sympathy
for the Jason Cottle’s jihadi than the faceless tools of American imperialism.
As staunchly American as God, Mom, apple pie and wiping out indigenous
peoples, I wonder how much of an audience Act
Of Valour will find in the UK, beyond the type of military fantasist who
keeps a dog-eared copy of Bravo Two Zero
in the loo to masturbate over. I’m
terrified it might find a wide one.