Act of Valor (2012)

Hollywood is the strongest and most profitable of the all international entertainment systems and has been pumping out films about its national defence for a long time. A good example would be D.W. Griffith’s silent film A Birth of a Nation (1915).Griffith’s film opens with a foreword entitled ‘a plea for the art of the motion picture’ which asks its viewers to give Birth the ‘same liberty that is conceded to the art of the written word…[the same] which we owe to the Bible and the works of Shakespeare”.

Griffith’s film, one of the first of the epic war genre, presents the story of the Civil war from the Confederates point of view, but its foul and frankly racist depiction African American’s was and still remains to be controversial for audiences and scholars alike. In this, Griffith’s likening of the ‘artistic liberty’ in his film to culturally untouchable sources like the Bible and Shakespeare is the earliest example of the much more subversive nature of the American war film.

As the opening credits for modern combat film Act of Valor roll, we’re reassured that ‘this film is based on real acts of Valor’ and this insistence on the part of Valor’s experienced Military combat filmmakers Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh is the precise problem with the film’s seemingly truthful ambitions. Nearly a century after BirthAct of Valor’s foreword only goes to show that in war, war films, and especially American war films, Hollywood is still not as somnambulistic is it lets on.

McCoy and Scott work for Bandito Brothers studios, a company whose mission statement boasts that they bring together “filmmakers, athletes, and technologists…to redefine the studio of the future”.  Still, if one were to take a look at the long relationship between the American Military and Hollywood, it’s hard to believe that the Bandito Brother’s are doing anything other than just bringing the American forces’ message to us.

The American military has been lending out its best and brightest as extras in feature films for many years. If you haven’t noticed by now, you can catch them mostly in any American military themed film that adheres to fancies self-glorification (any Michael Bay film is a case in point for here).  Act of Valor’s most redeeming quality is that itdoesn’t follow in this tradition but instead attempts to embark on uncharted and promising territory in the American military film ethos: reality.


Valor follows a team of U.S. Navy Seals involved in a series of covert ops missions carried out in order to halt a possible terror attack on American soil. In between high octane scenes of the Seals killing bad guys with silent finesse, we learn that behind each Seal is a family man who deeply cares for his country and kin. Up against rural cronies wearing sweat stained wife beaters and brandishing AK 47’s, the Seals maintain an omnipotent presence that says that they are the hungry lions and the bad guys are the antelopes. 

Valor ‘s plot isn’t all that radical from what we typically see in American military movies, but what makes its effort really promising is that it certainly tries to do new knew things with the way it tells its story. The film benefits from experimental and P.O.V. camera work used to show modern combat from the Seal’s own eyes.

Obviously this style is aimed at Call of Duty and first person shooter fans (the trailer for Valor was available on the Battlefield 3 website). These scenes, in all of their unfortunate brevity, are commendable for their inventiveness and let us know someone was thinking about more than just good ol’ American Valor.

Still, Valor’s short comings are very obvious: the Seals sit around on a beach drinking beer, overall wearing rug rats at their feet, and their blonde wives clinging to their thick necks. It leaves little to the imagination of who exactly these men are outside of the service, and this becomes a major point of repetitive contention.

Haven’t we seen enough of this ‘American hero’ image? I guess not. Women and children are used to represent everything that is sacred in this world, as the Seals frequently avoid killing unarmed civilians on their missions (although their terrorist enemies always do).

This simple demonization of the terrorists (terrorists’ kill women and children and ergo are bad to the bone) is just too routine to make any real impact. It is as if Valor cut down one of the goofy terrorist marionettes from Team America: World Policeand put them up against an army of all American John Rambo’s.

All of this drowns out the good messages of religious and social tolerance which is loosely sparsely alluded to throughout the film. This is disappointing because moments like these would definitely make Valor’s specific message different than most of the blatantly American Military propaganda films. Instead these glimpses of ingenuity are overshadowed by other mundane messages.  As one of the villains asks “what is it about you Americans that makes you want to fuck your me out of my money”, the answer becomes clear: the hopes of seeing someone else besides these Lex Lutherian bad guys gripe with the Supermen of America.


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