A Review of Act of Valor

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Hollywood has been invaded, and humbled, by the United States Navy. Act of Valor has accomplished what the entertainment industry alone never could: create a blockbuster, heart-pumping, breathtaking, tear-jerker film of this genre with a wholesome message and unmatched authenticity, all without the help of big-named professional actors.

The Bandito Brothers were invited by the military to make a movie featuring the elite Special Operations Forces (SOF) known as the Navy SEALs. They were given unprecedented access. All of the uniformed characters on screen are portrayed by active-duty operators. Even the families are not actors, but are the actual wives and children of the soldiers you see on screen. Filming took almost two years to complete due to deployment cycles. While considering casting as they researched the film and spent time observing the elite commandos, the producers realized that no one could capture the realism or portray the expertise and heart of a SEAL better than a SEAL.

Over ninety percent of the combat sequences were shot using live fire–a never-before feat attempted for any movie. All of the gear is authentic operational equipment. The producers were even given brief access to a nuclear Trident sub. A tiny film crew was embedded with the SEAL team and given coordinates on a grid where they met up with the vessel in a covert location. The sub surfaced for a four-hour window to shoot the scene, then disappeared beneath the water to continue on its mission.

You have never experienced authentic action like this in a movie. There were moments where gasps could be heard in the seats around you. The violence is realistic, but not gratuitous or overly graphic. Those who are very sensitive to scenes of violence may be disturbed by some of the images, but this is no Pulp Fiction. The language is sometimes salty as well (remember, realism was the goal), including a few F-bombs, but again, this is no Die Hard. I heard more F-bombs by teenagers at the theater before the movie than I did in the film, but it is worth considering if you are sensitive to such things. I am glad to say there is no degrading treatment of women (there is a scene where a female CIA operative is captured and tortured) and no sexuality other than a bikini-clad waitress serving a cocktail to a narcoterrorist. The R-rating is for strong violence and language.

What you may not expect from this movie is its message. If your idea of a SEAL is an Arnold Schwarzenegger character, you are in for a big surprise. These men are seen for what they are: warriors with wives, commandos with kids, heroes with homes, men with a mission, and brothers in arms. The message of this movie is not the combat capabilities of SEALs, it’s their Code. Their Code is their ethos. It is what drives them and what defines them. (See the SEAL Code at http://lifeofvalor.com/the-seal-code.)

In one scene, the operators are gathered with their team and families on a beach the night before a deployment. The Chief gathers the operators around a fire as their wives and children play in the background. He reminds the men how critical it is to do the duty of husband and father first, and to be sure things are right at home before they go on mission, not leaving matters undone or taking unfinished business onto the battlefield. In essence, it is a come-to-Jesus session. What many people don’t understand about the SEAL is that his heart is for home, and as one of the operators puts it, “Trust me, you’re always trying to get home.” In that sense, this is a great family movie.

Throughout the movie, the faithfulness, sacrifice and love of brotherhood is the metanarrative. In an age desperate for an understanding of masculine love, with plenty of cowards masquerading as men who know little of loyalty to family or brotherhood, this is a refreshing and penetrating message. I had the privilege of taking a friend, a twenty-year Navy veteran, to watch the screening with me. It was his birthday, and I was honored to sit beside a man of honor and faithfulness and watch this film together. But most of us have known men who’ve dressed in uniform, but whose life betrays the honor, faithfulness and courage it represents. It is not the uniform, but the heart, that makes the SEAL. And it is the heart that makes the man.

Many men will watch Act of Valor and be exhilarated by the action, and remain oblivious to the message. Like X-Box warriors whose lives are filled with jabber but vacant of valor, the language of courage, faithfulness and brotherly love will be lost on them to the pyrotechnics on the screen. SEALs live (and die) by their Code. Leading and being led. Respect for one another and authority. Integrity, responsibility for actions, and “Loyalty beyond reproach.” Honor on the battlefield and off. Devotion to team and teammate. A love that lays down its life for a friend. And, of course, a heart for home. These things will mock warrior-wannabes as they experience valor the only way they know how–vicariously, sitting in front of a flat screen or watching other men do what they simply refuse: live a life of faithfulness and honor.

Some men will see this movie with their buddies, grab some beers afterward while glorying in what they just watched on screen, and then go about wasting their lives. But a few will witness what is already wired in their hearts to do–answer the call to be the leader and lover he was created to be. That Christ died so they could be. A few will become that honorable man. A few will be that faithful brother. But only a few.

Clint Wagnon is a Christ-follower, husband, father, pastor, church planter, professor and author of “Love Takes Guts.” He lives in Orlando with his wife and four children. Follow Clint on Twitter at @clintwagnon and Facebook at facebook.com/clintonwagnon.

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Barry Wallace
February 10th, 2012

Do you think it be appropriate for a 12 year old boy? I have one who wants to see it. Thanks.

Clint Wagnon
February 10th, 2012

Barry, that is impossible for me to say. Notice what I wrote about the violence and profanity. You’ll have to use your wisdom there. My three boys are younger than 12.

February 12th, 2012

I am about 14 years of age and am actually pretty mature in a lot of things. And I’ve seen some pretty hairy films in my time that I both enjoyed are thought was plain stupid. Because I’ve seen Saving Private Ryan and enjoyed it so much to make it into my top favorite movie in the war genre. So what I’m trying to say is Act of Valor more violent or as violent as Saving Private Ryan?

Clint Wagnon
February 12th, 2012

The language and violence in SPR was more graphic, in my opinion.

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