Monday, February 27, 2012

Better than James Bond

When I heard that Act of Valor (Mike McCoy & Scott Waugh) starred U.S. Navy Seals - and that the film in many ways had been exceptionally done - I decided to go out and see it. I haven’t seen such an exciting – sit on the edge of your seat, style – movie in quite some time. Yup, these are ordinary – or extraordinary - Navy Seals (the same guys who killed bin Laden) who had been given scripts to act. The film has been criticized for the stilted acting. I don’t think the audience I was with cared one bit. In fact go to the Rotten Tomatoes web site and take a look at the disparity between critics’ rating of the film and general audience reaction – today it’s 31% vs. 85%. And, wouldn’t you know it, Act of Valor turned out to be the top grossing movie of the weekend on its opening weekend! This makes me wonder if there should be a new way to evaluate films. That in fact the audience holds more credibility in terms of the overall impact of a film – essentially what movies at their emotional core are supposed to be all about - than cerebral, nuanced, biased, over-intellectualized critics. That’s certainly the case here. Another major criticism is that reviewers thought this was some kind of Armed Forces “recruiting” film. What a laugh. That thought never occurred to me at all. What we have in reality is a genuine action-packed thriller that combines real professionals, hi-tech warfare and real world plausible threats.....The plot: The film follows a group of Navy Seals who go “down range” to hunt and kill an assorted list of contemporary bad guys – Jihadists, narco drug lords – in this case the groups working together to exploit American border weaknesses and pull off terrorist attacks that would make 9/11 look like a walk in the park, as I think one character says.....The thing about this film, as opposed to a storyline in James Bond, is that the scenarios have a high degree of probability. Another is that we actually see the Seals in action (they apparently freelanced and the movie wasn’t sanctioned by the military; stuntmen weren’t capable of many of these scenes) with live ammo. This is stunning and emotionally gripping footage – almost non-stop, kind of like a video game, I guess – of Seals battling the bad guys.....The other great aspect of this film is there is a moral force at play. Since 9/11 we have not had many or any strongly patriotic movies, or at least once that don’t put the military or West in a bad light. The only one I can think of is Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker (2008). Not that the filmmakers here go out of their way to evoke patriotism but that can be an effect. At least it was for me. In other films there are simply too many damn nuances if not outright condemnations of the West in the War on Terror (Fahrenheit 9/11, Rendition, In the Valley of Elah). Act of Valor is clearly a film about the Good Guys doing the Right Thing against the Bad Guys to Save Us All. Highly refreshing and hugely rivetting.

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