Drew Zahn is a WND news editor who cut his journalist teeth as a member of the award-winning staff of Leadership, Christianity Today's professional journal for church leaders. A former pastor, he is the editor of seven books, including Movie-Based Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching, which sparked his ongoing love affair with film and his weekly WND column, "Popcorn and a (world)view."More ↓Less ↑
Jesus told his disciples, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
The theme is common in “band of brothers” military films, but rarely is it more clear, more vivid, more compelling, exciting, suspenseful or inspiring than in the new, must-see film, “Act of Valor.”
And rarely is it more clear that we, the American people, are the “friends” our brave men and women in uniform are laying down their lives for.
Filmed with actual Navy SEALs in key roles, “Act of Valor” is about an elite team of SEALs who leave their families to go “downrange,” doing battle across three continents to stop a terrorist cell plotting to kill thousands of Americans.
The SEALs in “Act of Valor” are convincing in battle and in portraying their sense of brotherhood but are distractingly awful when attempting to act and deliver the film’s inane dialogue. Nonetheless, virtually every other element of filmmaking – suspense, camerawork, direction, music, special effects – shines in “Act of Valor,” driving forward its inspiring and gut-wrenching story.
I talked with one woman afterward who said she was rolling her eyes, ready to leave when the SEALs first started talking, but as soon as they airdropped by night into a Costa Rican swamp, she was hooked, riveted to her seat, braving a bladder ready to burst for the rest of the film because she daren’t miss a moment.
And when the credits began to roll, I sat in a silent theater, the audience too stunned to move. Some were crying, some trying to applaud, some challenged by the warriors’ courage, others simply grappling with profound gratitude.
“Act of Valor,” simply put, for all its flaws, is a fantastic film and the kind of movie American patriots are certain to appreciate.
Some have said the movie is little more than a glorified recruiting film. And certainly, “Act of Valor” is brimming with, as a friend of mine says, “wicked awesome” techno-military wizardry: From the tension of looking through a sniper’s scope to raiding a Mexican compound through night vision, from dropping out of a plane at night to sneaking into Africa by submarine, from drone-mounted cameras calling the shots to the startling whirl of chain guns spitting bullets at lightning speed, the boys will be in awe of the sailors’ toys.
Furthermore, several camera angles resemble first-person shots from “shooter” games on the Xbox 360. But make no mistake, this film may use a language video gamers can understand, but it does not make war look like child’s play.
Yes, the adventure, brotherhood, warrior spirit, courage and honor depicted – plus all the cool technology – stirred within me a desire to sign up. On other hand, the personal sacrifice, fear, startling violence, constant tension and terrorizing danger to life and limb made me want to say, “I’m never signing up for that.” So no, I don’t think it’s a recruitment film; I think it’s just a really good movie.
As for its worldview, it touched upon all kinds of hot-button political issues, including Islamic terror, the porosity of America’s southern border and interrogation techniques, to name a few. It quoted a Tecumseh poem and occasionally tried too hard to wax eloquent, sometimes spouting off about manhood or honor with words that don’t quite line up with biblical truth. I was particularly puzzled by the contrast between the bad guys’ ineffective use of torture in interrogation and the Americans’ very effective use of … smooth talking (?) – a depiction that seemed altogether too PC to fit reality.
But none of these hot-button issues dominate or even really distract from the film’s exhortation of valor and sacrifice.
One scene in particular sums up the movie. In the attempt to rescue a kidnapped female CIA agent, one of the SEAL team is surprised by a gunman and shot in the face. His teammates extract him, worried that he may not escape the jungle alive.
Suddenly, in the ride back to safer waters, the injured SEAL startles awake.
“You took one to the face,” his buddy tells him as he tries to calm his wounded comrade.
The wounded man’s response is telling. He doesn’t bemoan his blindness or disfigurement, he doesn’t cry out or panic over the shadow of death at his door. His concern is for one person and one person alone.
“Did we get her?” he asks.
This is a microcosm of what the film is about: Men and women whose first and foremost concern is not their lives, their futures or even their families, but the safety of their fellow countrymen.
“Act of Valor” contains about 35 obscenities and profanities, many of them strong. It isn’t flooded with obscenity in the attempt to prop up some false machismo like many Hollywood “tough guy” movies (there’s no fake testosterone needed for this film), but it isn’t edited out either.
The film does have a few pointless lingering shots of ladies in bikinis, but otherwise is fairly clean, sexually. There are a few kisses between married couples and a couple of lewd comments. The female torture victim is stripped down to minimal clothing, but the camera doesn’t ogle her.
There is an exceptional amount of violence. Though it isn’t really glamorized or stylized, there are dozens of blood-splattering headshots, pools of blood, wounds, gunfights, explosions, chases and the like. The film is primarily about violent military confrontations.
“Act of Valor” includes only a few religious references, including a soldier who wears “In God We Trust” on his helmet, and an Islamic character who praises Allah in a video message and promises his suicide bombers that they are assured of heaven. There is also a brief reference to “troubling no one about his religion” in a quoted Tecumseh poem.