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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: Act of Valor

ACT OF VALOR (Two Stars)
U. S.: Mike McCoy & Scott Waugh, 2012

With its cast of real-life Navy Seals playing characters based on themselves, in a script partly drawn from real life, in scenes that the Seals actors helped design and choreograph, Act of Valor should really be the last word in Seals combat realism. And that’s something that American audiences should be ready for — especially in the aftermath of the inspiring real-life Seals trackdown and termination of the killer of 9/11, Osama Bin Laden.

Instead, it feels like just another war picture — with more exciting and authentic-looking action than usual maybe, but with the same old clichés, the same old villains, the same old camaraderie, the same old conventional dramatic stuff and the same old flag-draped sentimentality and recruiting-poster themes. There are exotic villains named Christo (Alex Veadov) and Abu Shabal (Jason Coffee) and shoot-‘em-ups in Costa Rica and terrorist battles in Mexico. There’s a would-be heart-tearing Pacific Ocean beach goodbye. (Milius would have done it better.) And though it probably works for much of its intended audience, it’s a movie that doesn’t inhabit the same universe as Platoon or The Hurt Locker or Apocalypse Now, not to mention the honestly and affectingly gung ho war movie classics of John Ford, Howard Hawks or William Wellman back in WW2 (and I)..

Nor does the movie seem to be making good use of its unusual cast: a group of  actual Navy Seals still on active duty, most of whom mostly use their own first names (though not usually their last), presumably to preserve their safety and security. Except for the already justly praised (by other critics) Van O, who does a great interrogation, they don’t act at the same levels at which they wage war — though that’s probably because they’re not responsible for the writing or direction.

The movie was written by Kurt Johnstad (300) and directed by Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh (who sign themselves The Bandido Brothers  and who appear at the beginning of the movie, explaining that their Seals are real). All three have backgrounds in stuntwork, and maybe that’s why the stunts here seem so much more authentic than the emotions. In any case , the movie reportedly started as a documentary (with McCoy and Waugh embedded with the Seals) and later became a recruiting film, and finally emerged as what it is now: a major release feature, packed with major stereotypes and all-pro action.

I think McCoy and Waugh would have been wiser to keep it a documentary, or even a recruiting movie. Of course, Act of Valor will gross more in its current incarnation. But grosses aren’t everything.

Too bad. But I would like to pay tribute to some of the Act of Valor Seals and castmates that I was able to find combing through the various cast lists, mainly Variety‘s: Dave, Lt. Rorke, Ray, Ajay, Mikey, Sonny and Weimy. Semper fi, guys. Really.

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One Response to “Wilmington on Movies: Act of Valor”

  1. Scott Jenkins says:

    Semper fi would be appropriate for Marines. For SEALs, their warcry, “Hooyah!” or one of their slogans, “Pays to be a winner!” would be a better choice.


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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon