Review by: Christopher Miller
On a sun-scorched afternoon, an ice cream truck parks outside an international school in the Philippines drawing dozens of kids to flock around it in hopes of buying a tasty treat. The driver steps out of the truck, laughing and joking with the kids as he opens the side window where the goodies are kept. A woman seated in the back begins to serve the students. Among the crowd, a US Ambassador picks up his son from school. The driver of the truck, having done his job, walks hurriedly away without so much as a glance back. The camera follows him around a corner as the truck he left behind violently explodes killing all around it.
This is how our movie begins. In one cowardly act of terror dozens of innocent lives are lost. This is our ordinary world – a world plagued with evil. As the audience sits in stunned silence we are left to wonder; who will save us?
Enter the heroes. The brave men who will set things right, or die trying. Except this time we’re not watching polished actors…it is the real deal. Loving husbands and expectant fathers sharing in the joy of their families on the eve of another mission. For them, there is no such thing as an easy day at the office. Duty calls and they respond, rushing into danger when others retreat. Even the wounded soldiers are more worried about the mission than themselves.
That’s right. In “Act of Valor” we are privileged to be introduced to real-life Navy SEALS and their real-life families playing fictional roles on the big screen. This is not a “reality TV” documentary, but neither is it a big budget hollywood war flick like Saving Private Ryan. Instead, Act of Valor falls somewhere in between the two as a fictional mission inspired by real events these very men perform everyday. It is a brilliant concept and, for the most part, it works very well on screen.
The story follows an elite team of Navy SEALs who embark on a covert mission to recover a kidnapped CIA agent and uncover a deadly terrorist plot against the United States. Their team is quickly re-deployed on a global manhunt in hopes of averting the deaths of thousands of American civilians. Along the way they must balance their commitment to country, team and their families back home.
In some ways, it is hard to be too critical of a film that casts real life heroes in place of actors because these guys demand so much respect. Still, I would be lying if I didn’t say there were lines delivered a bit flatly and I found myself a bit distanced from the heart of the characters being portrayed at times. But this shouldn’t keep anyone from going to see this film. It is a visual feast of close quarters gun fights and daring tactical maneuvers that will leave you in awe of our special forces. It’s not a perfect film, but it delivers on its premise. How these men put themselves through this on a regular basis is beyond me. It made me feel like a wimp and certainly did a great job of getting my patriotic blood pumping.
This film is exactly what our country needs to see. Too often we take for granted the freedoms we have. We forget that freedom isn’t free, and that there are men laying down their lives for you even as you read this review. These guys have kids and wives and friends back home, but they don’t hesitate for a moment to jump on a grenade in order to save the lives of their team mates. It’s second nature. It’s their job. They do it for you.
So, even if you don’t go see this movie (which you should) stop right now and say a prayer for the real heroes in your life. Be grateful for what they do everyday to keep us safe and free. For as the Bible says, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
Keep in mind this feature is rated R for a reason. Violence? Yes…but in no way is it over the top considering the nature of the story. There are some graphic images of torture, battle wounds and large explosions. Strong language is used throughout, but it was likely toned down from reality. I wouldn’t say they were “cursing like sailors”. There was no nudity and the values of honor, camaraderie and self-sacrifice are clearly demonstrated.
Four stars (out of five) for this unprecedented film and the real heroes who made it.
Act of Valor opens February 24 in theaters everywhere.