Once upon a time, Hollywood loved to splash all that made America great across the silver screen. It made our heroes larger than life, made the whole world look upon us with awe, envy and desire. We were the strong and the brave, striving to do the right thing, fighting the good fight. In times of trouble, Hollywood cheered us and rallied us, kept the home fires burning.
Then came Vietnam, and suddenly the men that put their lives on the line for us were no longer treated as heroes---they were barely even treated with respect. Not much has changed in the nearly 50 years since then. Hollywood lost touch with the common man. It went from being cheerleader to scold and naysayer.
Therefore, it's a refreshing experience to see a movie in which America's military is portrayed with pride. Act of Valor is one of those rare films that isn't ashamed to be patriotic. Yet it's not sugar-sweet; it doesn't make battle pretty.
We go on a couple of missions with the SEALs, during which they operate with skill, precision, professionalism and honor. The incredibly difficult, tense missions pit them against tough, ruthless opponents. The SEALs don't waver for a moment. They do their job, without apology. The film is made without apology.
While the actors were Hollywood amateurs yet military professionals (real-life active-duty Navy SEALs), they performed quite well. Some of the dialog came across as a bit hokey, a little stilted, but that was easily forgiven, in that the film was much more action-based than dialog-focused, letting the guys do what they do best.
The filmmakers packed the movie with action from start to finish. The audience was thrown into the adrenaline and confusion of a firefight, as the SEALs on screen achieved their objectives calmly and purposefully, with awesome firepower, using much of the latest weaponry and surveillance tools.
Throughout the film, the families of the sailors aren't far from their minds or the minds of the audience. Before the men go off to battle, they say they have to make everything right at home so they have no distractions in the field. America's military families can take pride in knowing their sacrifices, their strength and contributions, were well represented in the script.
If the movie had a downside, it was the portrayal of whom we were fighting. The terrorists were not Middle Eastern bad guys. Instead it was an odd assortment of two Russian kingpins (and a handful of babushka seamstresses sewing suicide vests), Costa Ricans, Mexicans and a few Filipinos thrown into the mix. The movie has drawn some criticism because one of the Russians, the billionaire money man funding the terrorist operation, is called out in one line of dialog as being Jewish. Islamic terrorism commentators Debbie Schlussel, Bookworm and Pamela Geller claim this makes the movie anti-Semetic. I disagree. It wasn't a central point of the film.
I do agree it is rather stupid to make the financier of Islamic jihad a Jew. Would radical Muslims even want to take Jewish money to pay for their supposed way to heaven? I rather doubt it. By inserting this one line ("But you're a Jew"), the filmmakers ask the audience to suspend disbelief that the money man is so down with the cause that the Muslims could overlook their religious animosity. But that premise isn't supported at all. For one, the head Muslim honcho is a Chechen convert to Islam. No lifelong Muslim takes part in directing the operations. We're told the Russian Jew and the Russian Muslim convert have joined forces because they were friends back in childhood. Yet they don't seem to like each other, and they never give the audience any common goal that has now brought them together after all these years.
In fact, the billionaire tries to back out, saying he doesn't want to be directly involved anymore though he'll keep paying for the plans in motion. We're never told why this billionaire, who has made his rubles as a drug smuggler, would benefit from blowing up Americans. Throughout the first part of the movie, we are left to assume he is a radical Islamist too. Later, when the Rob Reiner-looking SEAL senior chief confronts him on his yacht and mentions he is Jewish, it makes no sense.
It's just all so preposterous, the Russians' backstory, that it is easy to dismiss as lousy scriptwriting and forget it all when the action soon retakes the screen. And that's the last we see of the inexplicable Mr. Russian Jew Islamic Jihadist.
Schlussel, Geller and Bookworm seem to be upset that anyone engaged in terrorism could possibly be Jewish. But this guy didn't seem very religious or very bright. (From the start, I was wondering how in the world this greasy-haired hippie could have possibly amassed a billion dollars, even in a corrupt Russia.) I could see someone who was obsessed with making money by any means could associate themselves with terrorism if they were gonna make money off of it, but this guy was funding it, not profiting from it, thereby negating that angle (and potential charge of pushing a negative Jewish stereotype).
But I ask Schlussel, Geller and Bookworm, why should Jews be excluded from being the bad guys? Are all Jews perfect angels, never driven by baser motives? Wouldn't it be anti-Semetic to say Jews can't be treated like everyone else? Be bad guys in action movies? Granted we would all prefer bad guys that make sense in the constructed scenario....
If I had to guess, I'd say Obama's Defense Department had a lot to say about whom the bad guys were to be. The people that Obama has spent most of his presidency bowing to, giving apologizing speeches to, relinquishing all American military superiority to, attempting to ignore all their connections to violent terrorism, are the people that are completely left out of the movie: radical Islamist Middle Eastern Arabs.
At first glance, it seems surprising the Defense Department consented to make Russians the bad guys, no matter how bumbling and disconnected to true Islamism they were. Obama has been courting the Russians since Day One, unilaterally giving up key strategies and forsaking our allies for them. But one bad guy was a Chechen, whom the Russians don't like anyway, so they'd be cool with that. Making the other Russian Jewish also fits with Obama's world view of good and evil. With the animosity this current administration has shown towards Jewish people, it would not surprise me if that group would be Obama's personal choice to make the bad guys (if he had to choose some group other than American right-wingers).
As far as the Mexican connection is concerned, hey, the Obama administration has sent Americans guns into Mexico and caused Mexican deaths and crime as a result, without giving Mexico the typical apologies they love to give to our foes, so it's no surprise they wouldn't care much about making them the bad guys. I don't know what beef the Obama administration has against Costa Ricans. Perhaps they better start worrying what Obama has up his sleeve for them.
So yes, having a Russian Jew fund the operation was a dumb, unexplained twist. But it was such a minor plot point, it did not impair my enjoyment of the movie. (In fact, Bookworm retracts the charge of anti-Semetism after more consideration.)
Our military deserves to finally have a supportive film in the long 10 years of war they have endured. Films like Act of Valor and Restrepo have sadly been few and far between. In an torn America that can't even bring itself to give our returning warriors a parade, supporting this little film feels like a fine way to support our troops.
Good job, guys. Bravo, for all you have done.
cross-posted at PrudencePaine.com.