‘Act of Valor’ toes line of poor judgment

Published 10:56 am Wednesday, March 21, 2012

by Chuck Lilley

Rating: Two thumbs up out of four

I have misgivings about “Act of Valor.”

No doubt that it is unique because it combines both active-duty Seals and only a small number of genuine actors. The use of active-duty Seals in starring roles injects realism and enhances the numerous action scenes.

As a viewer, it becomes impossible not to be in awe of the bravery of these young men. Their capability to perform as a cohesive unit and at such a high mental and physical level is on full display. It is as if we are watching fleshy, well-oiled machines with the ability to think and to instantly improvise when original plans go awry. The thrilling action confirms our established perceptions of Navy Seals as simply the absolute best at what they do. For that confirmation, we can be appreciative and grateful for this film.

However, as the story unfolds, concerns emerge. Does the desire of the co-directors to make a saleable Hollywood film override good judgment? Considerable military technology, advantages that Seals possess over our enemies, seems to be unnecessarily exposed. If this is an accurate perception, then such recklessness has the potential to impair the safety of these young warriors, many of whom have families.

Co-directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh were initially permitted to embed within a Seal unit to produce a training/recruitment film, and their original plan was to exclusively utilize established actors. That a training film morphed into a fictionalized action movie with active-duty Seals and fell outside the normal confines of the Defense Department is arguably worrisome.

There are two missions threaded throughout “Act of Valor.” One involves a thrilling rescue of a kidnapped CIA operative in Costa Rica. The other is a plot to smuggle terrorists from Mexico into the United States through a series of tunnels that have been constructed by a drug cartel. Despite the plots being fictionalized, the riveting action sequences convince us that the stories are realistic. Throughout these missions, the numerous scenes of death and killing enhance believability, but they are not for the faint of heart.

With a limited number of trained actors, performances cannot be dramatically critiqued. Dialog is in short supply but presumably is within the comfort levels of the Seals’ real-world chain of command. The limited dialog does not detract from the riveting viewing experience. There is limited character development and the co-directors too frequently present the Seals as one-dimensional. Scenes of families are brief and only fleetingly remind us of their sacrifices and their vital link as a base of support.

“Act of Valor” is currently a box-office success and does provide a unique, effective visual into a world of military stealth and calculated risk. This aspect of the film admittedly has inquisitive appeal. The financial success will no doubt lead other directors to attempt to engage Seals in starring roles. Temptation to expose unique military capabilities both for action enhancement and to justify sales and profits will exist. If lives and future Seal missions will be at risk, it is hoped that directors will refrain from this exposure and will focus more on the character development of Navy Seals as more than one-dimensional warriors.

CHUCK LILLEY is a Franklin resident and retired corporate manager. His email address is chulill@yahoo.com.