[T]he order of knight-errantry was instituted
to defend maidens, to protect widows,
and to rescue orphans and distressed persons
--Don Quixote, Cervantes
I have known many adventures in my time
. . . but war is not really an adventure at all,
it is only a substitute for adventure . . .
War is a disease
--Pilot de Guerre,
Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Ma'am I am taking you home
--SEAL to Agent Morales
Act of Valor Part I -- Gender Relations
"What do you fight for?"
That's the challenge delivered but not answered by the Department of Defense-funded technicolor shoot-em-up, cotton-candy-for-the-mind film, Act of Valor (A of V). It is a recruiting tool par excellence, every bit as much as George Lucas's recent film on the Tuskeegee Airmen, Red Wings, a film he described as “Patriotic,” and “inspirational for teenage boys.” A of V is a piece of bombastic propaganda that might have embarrassed even Goebbels.
Even by measure of romantic notions of honor, courage, valor and warriorhood, the film did not pass muster. What were the brave SEALs fighting for? We presume for what all soldiers fight -- the completion of a military mission conducted in a military manner delineated by a clearly-defined objective that does not always move out to the next woodline.
A of V presents rough and tumble pretend military actions that were simply unfocused violence, as senseless as anything thrown our way by al Qaida. In addition, the objects of the SEAL's wrath were laughable as viable opponents and cut of the same Marlboro Man cardboard.
A Town and Country reviewer (3.12.12) gushed, "Historians will prize this recording of operations so close to the truth of actual combat." We wonder if the Townies are really qualified to make this assessment: Have they actually known anyone who has served in Iraq or Afghanistan?
We had "The Green Berets" back in the 1960's, but we in Special Forces used to laugh at the film, understanding that it was a poor representation of the reality. Ranger thinks this world of gaming-addicted, virtual reality-living youth is not laughing in the same way.
A of V is not John Wayne in the Green Berets but in The Searchers -- a darker film in which Wayne embarks on an endless search fueled by hatred and violence against the Indian kidnappers of a white woman.
A of V grossed $24.5 million its premiere week. Where did that money go? Since my tax dollars funded the film, shouldn't the profits return to the U.S. Treasury? The General Accounting Office should examine this little feat of slicky-boyness. First, the military recruiters brought war game simulators into the malls; now, they've put their spiel in the cinemaplex. Getting future cannon fodder to pay for the privilege is brilliant.
The rest of this review will be in two parts: The Characters and the Action. Characters today; Action tomorrow.
This is a recruitment film, so it does the military well to target their audience of potential enlistees. Therefore, the Jessica Lynch of the film is a Latina Central Intelligence Officer, Agent Morales. In order to curry favor with largest demographic, we have the central action focusing around her rescue by the helmeted and often obscure SEALs.
The military already has a choke hold on the land of Jessica Lynch. If a poor resident desires to leave West Virginia et. al., the military is the still the best choice. However, the new rising pool of potential applicants comes from across the border.
Women in general are weak in the film, in keeping with Faludi's thesis in "The Terror Dream" that the events of 9-11-01 would usher in a neuvo-machismo which patronizes women so as to re-establish the power inequity. In this way, the film is -- as Lucas described his softball "Red Tails" -- “old-fashioned” and “corny”.
The little ladies are treated in fundamental Islamic style, sans burkhas. They are props to their oh-so-manly spouses and baby-making machines, suspended in animation until their heroes return dragging their dirty laundry and tumescent members. The women served up the sentimentality via tears at the final funeral scene.
One wonders why these guys even marry considering their flatline portrayal: Would guys with such low affect even desire a woman? If you are going to put women in your film, their dynamic with the lead should be developed somewhat, especially in 2012, and when the suggested subtext of your wars has been to develop gender parity. One imagines these men as Spartans, coming home only to procreate with their wives, who perhaps are shorn of their hair and dressed in manly clothing for the event. (The screenwriter also wrote the Spartan film, "300".)
Our Jessica Lynch-cum-Jennifer Lopez is captured by terror-supporting drug kingpins, associated with Russian Jewish gun dealers, associated with Chechen terrorists -- What else? She is tortured, and the team launches and rescues her after three days of captivity -- unbelievable in any format other than a Navy-funded action game.
That it is unlikely a Russian Jew would support radical Islamic Chechens is beside the point; this is Hollywood. The Jewish gun dealers are taken right from the canard the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. They are hook-nosed villains to parallel the generic Middle Eastern threat, which is never mentioned, by the way. So much for the truthiness of the film.
Why would the Chechens want to attack the U.S. Homeland? Why would Central and South American druglords need weapons from a Russian? Why would they do anything for extremists? Irrelevant, when there is shooting to be done.
If you believe this movie, the lack of reason does not trouble. Like the team leaders says, "There are threats everywhere," and isn't that the nature of bogeymen to be rather imaginary and unreal?
A of V plucked every American macho stereotype from James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales to Jeremiah Johnson and Lawrence of Arabia, from Louis L'Amour and Zane Grey to every Western ever made.
This derivative aspect of pop culture has been the norm for several generations now, and make no mistake, A of V is a representation of pop culture. It is time for something new -- a new hero, a new idea.
Act of Valor provides neither.
NEXT: Act of Valor Action