Thursday, March 29, 2012

Act of Valor - from a different perspective

Yes, I know I'm way behind the curve here, but sometimes I have to chew on a thought for a while before I'm ready to spit it out... and I've been chewing on several reviews of this movie, plus my own thoughts on it. I've read close to a dozen reviews, and most of them were from folks who either served or married into the military, or grew up as military brats. I am none of the above. My dad and older brother both served, so I was raised to respect the military, but I was never exposed to the life directly. Thus, a different perspective.

Others have remarked on the acting skills or lack thereof, the gun-handling skills, the cool toys... er... gear, the Hollywoodized tarted-up effects, the action sequences, the "OMG, Propaganda!", the errors or deviations from "the way it's really done", the plot or lack thereof, the awesomeness of "shooting tangos in the face", etc. Yeah, I noticed that (or some of it), and to everything but the cool and the awesome, I say, "yeah, so what?". The cool and the awesome I appreciate. But what really grabbed me was the real.

1. These are men. Intelligent, competent, able men, comfortable in their own skins, doing a difficult and dangerous job, and doing it well, with no fuss. Not pretty boys. Not metrosexuals. And not swaggering, arrogant Hollywood-version "manly men". Real Men. One of the criticisms I read was that we don't see the "characters'" back stories. Horse hockey. Back stories are for "becoming" stories: coming-of-age or becoming-the-hero tales. These guys aren't "becoming" anything, they ARE. Likewise, there's none of the angst or soul-searching that Hollywood likes so well because the angsty ones and soul-searchers never made it through the SEAL training.

These men love their families, their fellow team members, their fellow man and their country, deeply, whole-heartedly and unapologetically. There's a campfire scene early on in which the SEALs are told to make sure their family life is in order before they leave, because once they're on the mission, they can't be distracted by whatever's going on back home. The subtext of the following and later scenes implies that they have all done so - that they have done all they can to see that their families are well and taken care of. These men aren't just dedicated to being the best warriors they can be; they're dedicated, period. We need more of them.
The campfire scene also speaks to the lack of back stories or cut-aways to what's happening at home: this movie is about being present, fully, in the moment. It's good advice for the audience as well... leave everything else outside the theater and just be present in the moment.

2. The women are women. Intelligent, competent, able, women, comfortable in their own skins, doing a difficult job, and doing it well, with no fuss. This is mostly in the subtext, so Hollywood probably missed it. A couple of women are in on the action, but I'm speaking of the wives, who have the difficult job of loving and supporting a warrior, and "holding down the fort" while he's off to war. If man hath no greater love than that he lay down his life for... whomever, then woman hath no greater love than that she give her love and support to a man who would do so, knowing what the price might be. It takes a strong woman to watch her man go to war, knowing that he might not come back, and moreover, to do so as calmly and resolutely as he goes, to give him comfort in the sure and certain knowledge that she will take care of the homefront in his absence. It takes a strong woman to be proud of her husband and support what he stood for, even as she grieves his death, and to teach her children to be proud of their father and the path he chose, even though that path took him away from them. We need more women like that.

This is not to say that either the SEALs in this movie or their wives are perfect; they're not. They're human. I'm sure they all have their flaws, and plenty of less-than-stellar moments... moments that Hollywood would love to showcase, to drag them down to the level of the rest of us. But those moments aren't the ones that matter. As a favorite song of mine goes, "we are the choices that we make when the chips are down". This movie is about the moments that matter, the choices that heroes (and their wives) make when it's time to step up.

3. I don't watch war movies, usually; they're not my thing. I wanted to see this movie mostly to say "in your face, Hollywood!" I hoped (and still do) that it makes a crap-ton of money at the box office and another crap-ton in DVD sales, and I was willing to put my money where my hopes are. I wasn't expecting to like it. And I certainly wasn't expecting to walk away from it asking myself the question "Am I living my life in such a way as to be worthy of the price they pay for it?"


  1. Excellent post. If nothing else, seeing a military movie where
    1)there isn't some officer scheming with a corporation to start a war to make money and 2)the military isn't shown as corrupt, eager to kill psychopaths not fit in be in normal society

    makes it alright in my book. I also thought it was funny a lot of the criticism this movie received was that it wasn't using "real actors", and since it wasn't shot exclusively on a sound stage in Hollyweird, wasn't a "real movie". And here I thought liberals were open minded, progressive beings who liked innovation and new ways of doing things....

  2. Thanks, Stephen. "Normal" liberals might be open-minded and like innovation, but Hollywood is about as normal as a cult in a compound. I'm not sure who their Grand Poobah is, but I'm pretty sure they have one.