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Weekend Assignment: Valor



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If you care about the American military, and how they’re portrayed in motion pictures, do yourself a favor and go see Act of Valor, which opened yesterday (Friday). A big opening weekend will really send Hollywood a message, and you won’t even have to use Western Union. From my Thursday New York Post column on the subject:

After a string of anti-war, anti-military (and arguably anti-American) war movies, Hollywood finally gets it right. The Navy SEAL drama “Act of Valor” opens tomorrow in theaters nationwide.

Starring active-duty members of the elite commando unit and based on real events, the film is a bracing reminder of the war films Tinseltown used to make — and, if it scores, will be making again.

Why? It’s the patriotism, stupid. A bunch of flops near the end of the Bush administration — “Rendition” (CIA meanies coercing confessions), “Redacted” (US soldiers acting brutally), “In the Valley of Elah” (war’s dehumanizing effects) — was Hollywood’s way of trying to “end the war.” But the public rejected them all. As a rule, anti-war war movies just don’t sell,and “nuance” doesn’t cut it on a real battlefield.

Act of Valor is a hybrid film, a project that started out as a recruitment tool and turned into a full-length feature when the producer-directors got the brilliant idea to cast active-duty SEALs in the lead roles and weave a semi-fictionalized story around them. 

The script by Kurt Johnstad starts with the kidnapping and murder of a pair of CIA agents. Next comes a daring rescue-and-extraction operation, then a psychologically chilling interrogation (notably for its complete absence of violence) and a global manhunt, including a dazzling landing aboard a surfaced sub in mid-ocean — all wrapping up in a rain of gunfire inside a smuggler’s tunnel beneath the US-Mexican border.

Will it be a hit? “Want to see” tracking numbers are high, and the Navy — which cooperated with producer/directors Scott Waugh and Mike McCoy — expects SEAL recruitment to soar after its release.

“We believe that these men have been misrepresented for so long, and their story deserves to be told authentically and accurately,” said Waugh.

And, of course, the film is a salvo in the culture wars:

Ever since Vietnam, Hollywood’s message has been: Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be soldiers. “Act of Valor” hits the reset button on that notion.

The “blame America first” crowd will sneer at the SEALs’ quiet love of God, their families and their brothers “down range,” but anyone who’s spent a minute around real servicemen will know how true it rings.

The film’s authenticity stands out down the line. The weapons and the tactics shown in the film are real, and some sequences were shot using live ammunition, because that’s how the SEALs roll in training. Nobody flies through the air, hangs by one arm off 100-story buildings or somersaults while firing a machine gun. Everything the guys do in this film are things real humans can do. That may be the coolest thing of all.

At a time when special-operations units like the SEALs and Delta Force aren’t only the tip of the spear but, in many ways, the spear itself, the country needs to understand that their mission and their tough tactics are morally legitimate.

About time. And if Valor makes only $40 million in total, it will outgross the combined the theatrical runs of Elah, Stop-Loss, Redacted and Grace is Gone, all anti-war box-office losers.



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