Act of Valor viewers: Don’t try this at home.
Consider for a moment that being a Navy SEAL were a unionized, private sector job. Just how much per hour would you have to pay to get guys to do what Navy SEALs do?
I don’t believe there’s that much money in the world. You won’t either after you’ve watched Act of Valor, which I strongly recommend that you do (unless you don’t do well with violence — which is not gratuitous in this movie, but graphic).
Fortunately for us, the young Americans who have what it takes to be SEALs and are willing to take it on don’t do it for the money. Working for the Navy is a living, but hardly an extravagant one. The job description for a Navy SEAL, however, is about the most extravagant one on the planet. The training to qualify the small number of men who make this uber-select fraternity is probably the toughest in the world. Few are called, even fewer chosen.
SEALs have to be smart, strong, brave, durable, tenacious, emotionally centered, highly skilled, willing to work fantastically hard, and totally dedicated to doing things human beings should probably not be called on to do. And SEALs have to be patriots. If not, there are just too many other ways to make a living on this earth that don’t make the gaudy demands that the training, the work, and the life of a Navy SEAL place on SEALs and on the people who love them. America is blessed to have men like these.
Act of Valor is a movie about SEALs at work. It opened last Friday and in its first weekend led all movies at the box office, taking in $24.7 million, twice its meager production costs, half again what the second place movie took in, and almost twice as much as industry experts had predicted it would take in.
While some Americans last Sunday (a smaller number than in past years) watched an industry that for decades has been devoted to dissing America and American values passing out awards to its practitioners, many for movies involving pretend heroes, a host of other Americans were in theaters watching real American heroes on the screen. The central characters in Valor are real Navy SEALs, not actors. Scott Waugh, one of Valor’s filmmakers said there is no way actors could authentically portray the intensity, the aura, and the complexity of Navy SEALs, so they got the real guys to do it. None of your Charlie Sheen nonsense.
Valor, starring a half-dozen unnamed heroes turned in its boffo box office performance with little help from the critics, most of whom didn’t like the movie or its message. Folks who count these sorts of things told USA Today that only about 30 percent of critics who wrote about the movie reviewed it favorably. The word “jingoistic” was deployed in more than one review. Another sniffed that the movie (and by inference SEALs, as the movie shows realistically what they do) “ignores the complexities of war.”
Well, yes, as the movies shows, SEALs are very good at overwhelming complexities. Not to mention nuances. (If a SEAL encountered a nuance on the battlefield, he would likely give it a short burst and step over it.)
Hollywood, and the industry that has grown up around it, including critics, used to celebrate America and brave American warriors. Since about, oh, Bonnie and Clyde, it has taken to celebrating other things. Now the favored approach is to look down on American institutions, particularly the military. So it was no surprise that fewer than a third of critics liked the movie. It was also no surprise that in a still patriotic America, about 85 percent of audience members who were asked for their reaction after the movie gave it a thumbs-up.
Not all the criticisms of the movie are baseless. Some complained that the dialogue is a bit wooden as the central characters are not actors. Point taken. Though much of the talk sounded like real sailors to me. I was one decades ago, though in the length of my honorable but undistinguished service I never did anything as vigorous or as dangerous as the typical Navy SEAL does any day before noon chow.
Another complaint is that the story in Valor is thin. That the movie is mostly a recruiting tool and a SEAL appreciation exercise. Without giving away much, I’ll say the movie involves one rescue operation and then an attempt to stop a determined group of jihadists from entering the United States and committing gross acts of terrorism. The story is certainly as involved as that of your average segment of TV action fare and most action movies. But the action in this one is both heart-pounding and realistic. About as realistic as can be made. And intelligent in a way the latest Bruce Willis machine gun opera just isn’t.
In addition to the story line, the movie is strengthened by its themes of courage, sacrifice, patriotism, devotion, victory and loss. Any movie-goer who still believes America is a basically good country worth defending, and appreciates those who put it all on the line to do so, will have a hard time leaving this one with a dry eye.
Valor was three years in the making. Production schedules were interfered with when the movie’s “stars” were called away for overseas missions. We don’t know where the SEALs we saw in the movie are today. Could they at this minute be putting themselves at great risk for our advantage? Wherever they are, this moviegoer can only say, “God bless, God’s speed, and please accept my inadequate thanks for your service.”