With a number of recent war films (Green Zone and Tom Cruise's Lions for Lambs) disappointing at the box office, some movie moguls have gotten the message: Americans are tired of seeing our military put on trial.
Act of Valor is the first of several upcoming films to focus instead on honoring the troops. Yet it's no fairy tale: Rated R for language and strong violence including torture, it's gritty to say the least. When a CIA agent is brutally captured, a Navy SEAL team must parachute into enemy territory to rescue her. The intel they gain starts a man-hunt for Islamic radicals and a new generation of smart explosives aimed at American cities.
Admittedly, the plot and acting are at times strained. But producers Scott Waugh and Mike McCoy took a risk, casting active-duty Navy SEALs to play heroes of the film. And it paid off big in one respect-perhaps the most authentic combat scenes ever captured on the big screen. The Navy provided unparalleled access to technology and equipment, including a nuclear sub as well as real bullets instead of blanks. Even if you aren't a Call of Duty devotee, chances are you'll still get a rush hearing SEALs take cover under live machine-gun fire.
The film's authenticity is just as much about the men themselves. Instead of another Jack Bauer, the movie shows us a brotherhood of men, bound by a code of honor-courage, loyalty, freedom, and self-sacrifice, which gives the violence an unusual moral depth. As Chief says goodbye to his pregnant wife and joins his crew for a mission, we're told, "If you're not willing to give up everything, you've already lost."
And in that aspect, it's a valiant portrayal of manhood. But it's also insufficient on its own. The SEAL warrior's code has no power to redeem ultimately the suffering and loss so common in real soldiers' lives-what the narrator calls the box he keeps locked inside.