Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Act of Valor
Now "Act of Valor" is not a good movie, let's start with that right now. As a matter of fact, its probably considerably less fun than "Red Tails" and if I really needed to choose between the movies I'd go with Lucasfilm rather than the Pentagon. But I really feel bad saying that, because "Act of Valor" is one of those movies you really want to be really good. Because this is a movie made by the Pentagon starring active duty Navy SEALs fighting in exact combat tactics, often using live ammo. These are the supreme badass warriors fighting around the world for the American way, doing their thing on camera. Of course, you can't just have a movie about combat exercises, you do need things like plot and characters and dialog and stuff.
So obviously "Act of Valor" does a really kickass job with its action scenes. They're easily the most authentic combat scenes of modern warfare of any modern movie. And its all real people doing real things. That truck that blew up? That's a real truck. And that's a real submarine and a real helicopter and a real boat and real dudes jumping out of the plane. Its not a CG cartoon wonderland like well... every other movie that's been made in the last ten years, basically. So right there "Act of Valor" is a respectable movie, not to mention how it honors the world's most awesome badasses. However, beyond the action scenes, this movie has very little to enjoy. The plot is thin, and really the characters, acting, and script are um... lousy. But I feel so bad saying that, because god bless these guys they're trying.
"Act of Valor" really makes me feel conflicted. I guess I could trash this movie like I did "Red Tails", but that would make me feel like a bully to people we all should respect. Yeah, this movie isn't very good, but its not like the Navy SEALs couldn't make another movie, with maybe a better script, and well... a real actor. And just saying that feels mean.
Also I should really try to be nice to the Navy SEALs because if this movie is realistic (and I see no reason to doubt that), that means they can kill me about a billion times before I even finished typing out this sentence. If you're wondering how we finally got Osama's head on a stick, watch "Act of Valor".
I realized that the acting and plot of this movie wasn't going to be all that great the second "Act of Valor" introduced us to the main characters. They're both nondescript thirtysomething White guys that look and sound almost exactly the same, and for the entire movie I was utterly unable to tell them apart. One of them was slightly beefier, but its entirely impossible to tell them apart when they're in full combat gear and have their faces painted. It doesn't help that either of these main guys have any personality. I mean, I'd take these two over a movie with like Alex Pettyfer and Cam Gigandet, two of the biggest vacuums of charisma working in Hollywood today (and they both have such fun names!). And if Channing Tatum was in this movie, I'd join the Jihadists. However, the only personality traits between the two is that one has a baby on the way, while the other has like six kids. One is going for retirement, and the other is not. And one dies at the end. I don't know which one fits either of those categories, however, they were completely indistinguishable.
The best actor in this movie - by great leaps and miles - is the one of the bad guys, Cristo. He's this Ukrainian/Latin American/Jewish drug lord with great hair. He's probably the only guy in this movie who I could ever imagine doing another film. Even the main terrorist villain sucked in comparison, that guy looked like a crazy Giovanni Ribisi. Cristo was just awesome, I wanted the movie to be about him.
As for every other character... there's nothing. Nothing at all. A lot of the guys in "Red Tails" were pretty one-dimensional, but the guys in this movie are zero-dimensional. That's probably a technique, showing that the characters here are consummate professionals. They aren't going to spout one-liners and smirk at the senioritas and celebrate after they score a kill like in "Red Tails". So the action scenes are pretty much all business. Charlie Sheen isn't going to run out lone wolf and have an 80s action movie, everybody sticks together and does what they're doing with cold clinical precision. That's not to say the action scenes aren't cool, there is one amazing chase scene in trucks towards the beginning, but it also says you aren't going to care about any of the humans here.
Plus there are moments where "Act of Valor" becomes almost an exact first-person-shooter, where you take the eyes of a soldier as he's dancing his way through enemy territory. That's pretty cool.
And "Act of Valor" actually gets very close to working despite its lack of... well, characters and plot. The first forty minutes are awesome, the entire extract scene is amazing. I loved that entire part, and for a second I thought this movie was going to be really good. Then suddenly the mission was over, and it looked like the movie just might be wrapping up. I had to check my watch, because supposedly this was a two hour movie, and it didn't feel like two hours. Nope, there's still tons of movie to wait for. Because the terrorists' plan is much much bigger and really confusing. Filipino Muslim terrorists are trying to sneak into America as led by a Chechnyan mastermind, funded by Cristo, flown in with Somalian planes, and being brought it by Mexican drug cartels. Got all that?
So the middle of the movie drags. Way too much talking for a script that is even worse than the "Red Tails" script. And there isn't a real action exciting action scene again until the end of the movie. By far the most exciting moment happens forty minutes in, so the pacing is all over the place. It really doesn't help this movie's narrative tension that the Navy SEALs are so badass that they can basically destroy anything, making the villains seem really weak and hopeless in comparison. This is the US military, what the fuck can the drug cartels do in comparison?
"Act of Valor" has been accused of being a propaganda film, because apparently movie these days that presents the military in a positive light is "evil", I guess. Nobody is crying in a ditch about evil war is, the villains the bad guys and that's really it, and the heroes are fighting plain and simple for their homeland and their comrades. That's it. The story is pretty simple, and there aren't shades of grey here. Maybe if there was more complexity to the issue of the West vs. Jihadism I would agree with the critics that this is propaganda, but there isn't. Jihadism is evil, fuck those guys. When we curbstomp their leaders into the ground and send them to the bottom of the ocean, we're doing the entire world a favor. And this isn't glorifying the Navy SEALs operations. This isn't like those army recruitment commercials where the theme from "Starship Troopers" plays* and the American flag waves high, this is just flat realism. This is what the combat is, take it or leave it.
And honestly, if you got a problem with the Navy SEALs being out there fighting for Western Civilization, fighting for global peace, and fighting for America's interests abroad, then we got a problem. If you think the terrorists are justified, go fuck right off.
So anyway, "Act of Valor" is not a perfect movie, its not even a very good movie. Honestly if I had to pick with movie I'd rather watch between this and "Red Tails", I'd go "Red Tails". Yeah, this is more important movie, the more original movie, the more interesting movie... but "Red Tails", for all its cartoony silliness and stupidity, is a lot more fun. "Act of Valor" is kinda boring. If you're a Navy SEAL waiting outside my house to kill me now, I'm sorry, as a movie "Act of Valor" is not good enough. I salute what you do, I love your work, I'm glad Osama is dead, please don't hurt me for telling it like it is. If you want a movie with Navy SEALs that's fun, go watch the Charlie Sheen movie, "Navy SEALs". It might be awful and unrealistic and stupid, but its a cool 80s action movie, and sometimes that just better.
Anyway, after two posts about mediocre military movies, I need something a bit lighter. Something a bit more fun. Its time for... HERMOSO SOL!!
* I don't think the US Army actually uses that exact piece of music, but it sounds exactly like it. And I know that Paul Verhoeven must love the irony as much as I do. "Starship Troopers" is a movie satirizing the very "Why We Fight" kind of military propaganda culture, and he's really hating on Robert A. Heinlein's original book. For real-life military propaganda to get inspiration from a movie like that shows that we are a truly surreal species.