Saturday 18 January 2020

Good guys win in jingoistic war tale

Paul Whitington

Paul Whitington

Act of Valor

(15A, general release, 101 minutes)

Directors: Scott Waugh, Mike McCoy Stars: Roselyn Sanchez, Nestor Serrano, Emilio Rivera


As 16 innocent Afghan villagers found out to their cost last week, American servicemen are not always the good guys, but you'd never know it watching Act of Valor. An exercise in jingoistic hubris that almost reaches the trigger-happy heights of John Wayne's pro-Vietnam War film The Green Berets, Act of Valor is the work of video-makers Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh.

McCoy and Waugh were inspired to make it after filming crack US Navy SEAL commandoes in training. They conceived a story that would dramatise the elite unit's heroic and unsung work, but decided to cast a group of real naval commandoes in the key roles in order to make their film look more authentic.

When a female CIA agent is abducted in South America and tortured in the jungle by a man who's a dab hand with an electric drill, the SEALs sneak in by boat and plane to rescue her. In doing so, they find a mobile phone that leads them to Christo, who is an exceedingly wealthy Russian Jewish drug smuggler.

Christo has been working with Chabal, a suitably demented Chechen terrorist who would rather like to bring his jihad to American soil. He intends to do so by sewing little beads of synthetic explosive into the clothes of female suicide bombers, who will sneak from Mexico into California before exploding themselves in public places. Cunning plan, but the SEALs get wind of it, and the race is on to foil Chabal and co before they cross the border.

The square-jawed troops in Act of Valor are presented as universally good. None of them are sadists, they never shoot women (except exploding ones) or innocent bystanders, and are touring the world armed to the teeth as part of a higher calling.

No complex geopolitics here, just cowboys, Indians and modest military heroes to whom America and the world should be duly grateful.

The Huffington Post recently alleged that the US Navy ordered camera-shy SEALs to cooperate in what is essentially a recruitment video: whatever about that, some of them did look like they'd rather be under heavy fire than obliged to recite passages from Kurt Johnstad's stiff and stinky script.

Paradoxically, no one seems less real on a movie set than a non-actor: naturally enough, Act of Valor's SEAL stars approach action scenes with gusto, but stare at their shoes and turn bright red when it comes time to swap suspiciously clean jokes and wax sentimental about their families and America. They get the bad guys though, in a black and white universe that John Wayne would surely approve of.

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